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Photographs Of The Sex Industry

Behind The Curtain - Photographs Of The Sex Industry

by Ans Westra Opening 21 September 2001

"The women told me many stories while I photographed, mostly about survival....." In 1999, one of New Zealand's most significant documentary photographers went behind the scenes to strip clubs, massage parlours and brothels in Auckland and Hamilton to capture scenes from the daily lives of the women working there. The result is 'Behind the Curtain', a series of 38 black and white images by Ans Westra.

The photographs show women as they dress, strip, socialise and wait for clients. They do not rely on nudity or the depiction of sex acts to provoke a quick response, but rather show the women as both powerful and vulnerable in their often mundane surroundings. The series shows us "the ordinariness of much that goes on behind the curtain", says Westra.

Westra says she approached the people she met with an open mind. Making contacts within the industry management, she gained the trust of the women and used her ability to "blend into the background" to capture the direct and unaffected images.

Her work first came to the public eye in 1964 when she photographed East Coast Maori family living in rural poverty. The images were published in the Department of Education's Washday at the Pa. The book became controversial, and was the source of much debate about the conditions and representation of Maori. Since then, Westra has continued to explore aspects of New Zealand society which many people would prefer to ignore.

Her hope with Behind the Curtain is that visitors gain an insight into the lives of sex workers and "see these people as people doing just another job....Perhaps the photographs will allow you to get to know them a little, as I was privileged to."

Behind the Curtain is organised and toured by the Manawatu Art Gallery. City Gallery Wellington is managed by the Wellington Museums Trust with major funding from the Wellington City Council.

Ends


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