This chair belongs to a sex worker. I don’t know very much about her. What I do know is that this is where she sits between clients. It’s on a patch of gravel next to a fairly busy road in Umbria in central Italy.
I know that she has a bottle of water. I know that she has a mirror hung from a tree, and I know that this is her chair. I know that the heat is intense in August in the Umbrian hills, with little breeze to counter the sun’s rays.
I know it’s hard to find concrete numbers on the sex-trade, but there are thousands of chairs, camper-vans and mattresses like this across Europe. Many of their occupants have been duped, sold, and trafficked. Almost all have been forced by some means or circumstance.
She isn’t in this photo for two key reasons. The first is that I’m unable to adequately communicate with her, that I lack the linguistic skill to enter into a dialogue, and I’m scared to become another string in her exploitation. The second reason is that photographs define people, and that people define photographs.
I prefer that she not know I’ve been here and that her provenance not be the basis for judgement; I prefer that the chair could be my sister’s, my mother’s or my wife’s had their circumstances been different.
The caption-less photograph is a goal I strive for on a daily basis in my personal and professional practice. I’m always aiming to make a photograph that is easy to read and could be published as “untitled”: one that stands on its own.
I am white middle-class man in a western country who has never really been forced to do anything. I know that I am very lucky, and I know that I should do more.
I have puzzled over how to write this post for a long time now, and I’ve come to a conclusion: not everything can be easy to read, and some things shouldn’t have to stand alone.