No Photos, Please!

by Rocket on August 3, 2011 · 22 comments

in Strippers

twitter tiff

Kat and I recently had an exchange on twitter with a strip club customer I’ll call “Jay.” It started after I tweeted, “4 girls in bikinis shooting an ad in front of a strip club when a lady stops her car to take pics of us w/her phone” and “It’s totally inappropriate! You should ALWAYS ask first before taking someone’s photo, especially if it’s a woman in a swimsuit.” Jay didn’t see what the big problem was, so I tried to educate him, but you can only say so much with 140 characters.

First, let me say that I do know Jay beyond twitter. He’s frequented a few of the strip clubs I’ve worked at, and he’s always been polite to me there. However, I strongly disagree with his assumptive attitude that it’s acceptable for a person to take photos of whomever they like without that person’s consent. Just because someone is attractive to you, does not mean she is begging to have you take her photo. I also take issue with with his statement: “It’s not like you were sunbathing. You were already HAVING your pic taken.” So, let’s break this down: the difference between taking someone’s photo without her consent while she is sunbathing versus without her consent while she is participating in a closed (as in not including you) photoshoot is that the sunbather is likely unaware that the picture is being taken, while the model can clearly see that someone is taking her picture. In either situation, the picture of the sunbather/model is being taken without her consent. Also, taking pictures of a human being is so totally NOT “like taking pictures of a movie set” and taking pictures of a sex worker while she is in a situation that clearly portrays her in her job role can put her (or him) in a potentially very damaging, even life-changing predicament. I’ll explain why that is; but first, let me describe the situation behind those tweets.

The incident in question happened during a recent outdoor photoshoot, the results of which are for use in an advertisement for the club’s annual bikini carwash. For this photoshoot, four bikini-clad dancers (including myself) were washing a Mustang convertible that was parked up on the curb directly in front of the club’s sign. The sign is located on the front of the building adjacent to the main entrance. As the hired professional photographer snapped away, a woman slowed her car to a stop about ten feet from where I was standing, whipped out her cell phone, and began taking pictures. She had a small child in the car with her.

“Hey! I do not want you to take my picture. Stop!” I yelled. The other dancers’ body language showed that they were uncomfortable, too. One of them muttered “What the fuck is that lady’s problem?” under her breath. The photographer immediately stepped in front of the car window with his backside pointed at the woman, inviting her to take a shot of his butt instead.

“You guys ARE out on the street, you know. I can take a picture,” the woman quipped. Then she speedily drove off in a huff with her kid’s head bobbling around the backseat.

Now, on to the aforementioned carwash: this strip club is one of many in the area that holds bikini carwashes every summer. At this carwash, however, the strippers do not keep the tips we are given. Instead, we donate them to a nonprofit. Last year we gave them to the Humane Society. Every year, the carwash is innunated by skeezy guys trying to take inappropriate photos of the dancers. What I mean by inappropriate is that these guys don’t ask first or even hint that they’d like to take a photo. They aren’t trying to get us to pose. They are trying to get shots of us when we aren’t looking: shots of us bending over, nipple slips, etcetera. In fact, one such sleazeball took quite a few photos at last year’s carwash and posted them all over facebook. I stumbled across them and was utterly mortified; not just for myself, but for all of my co-workers. One girl had been photograhed bending far over with her cut-off jeans barely covering her vagina. She was very obviously NOT posing for the picture. I immediately flagged all of his offending pics and they were removed shortly thereafter. It adds insult to injury to know that my co-workers and I are out there working all day at an event FOR CHARITY and these guys are incessantly swooping in to prey upon us. It’s one thing if someone asks politely if they can take your picture, giving you the opportunity to stand up, smile, and look into the camera OR give you the option of politely replying “no thanks, I’d rather not.” It’s quite another when a person is sneaking around in a predatory manner, taking candid crotch shots without the subject’s consent.

This appears to be consensual.

These two instances are prime examples of potential “outing” and are a violation of any person’s privacy, especially a stripper’s privacy. This is because so many strippers keep what they do for a living secret. Another instance of “outing” made national news when a photographer in Toronto took photos of unsuspecting dancers on their smoke breaks on the rooftop patio of the club and then posted them to his Flickr account. Eventually the photos surfaced on a blog called the Torontoist and from there to other online media sites. “I was really upset because I didn’t expect to have that happen, to be taken pictures of while I was wearing what I was wearing,” said one of the dancers. “I don’t want someone to recognize me and tell my parents and friends. I didn’t want it to be all over the papers and on the internet.”

Sex workers were outed in a different (if not bizarre) way with the publication of No Man’s Land, a photo book consisting of Google Street View images. The images show women that British author Mishka Henner has labeled “women who appear to be soliciting sex” on the side of the road. The author is making money off of the images of these women without their consent, and likely framing them in a manner that they don’t want shared with the public. I think Furry Girl states it best: “This is no different than when police publish mugshots of sex workers against their will. Both involve outsiders sensationalizing and preying upon vulnerable and unwilling photo subjects.”

I’d like to point out that I personally do publicize that I strip for a living, but I am careful about where and how I do so. I make sure to know exactly where photos portraying me as a stripper could end up being used or posted, and I guard my legal name diligently to protect my privacy and safety. It helps that most of my more conservative relatives live thousands of miles away from where I work. I wouldn’t want certain relatives or professional contacts to know what I do for a living, not because I am ashamed of it, but because there is a heavy social stigma attached to stripping. I don’t want that stigma to interfere in my relationships with family or hinder me in getting a non-sex industry job in the future. For another person to take away that choice–my choice, to be private about my job is invasive and extremely upsetting. In the same vein, every time certain relatives visit from out of town, I loathe going to particular neighborhoods for fear that some oblivious customer is going to approach and call me by my stage name. I find it flattering to be recognized; however, depending upon who I’m keeping company with, I may not want to be outed. I certainly hope that this makes clear sense to anyone reading who may not have thought about the potential outcomes of “outing” any sex industry worker. Please act with caution and respect our privacy. Thank you.

{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

Sex Mahoney August 3, 2011 at 3:54 pm

This one is such a sticky issue. You’re in public, which makes uninvited photography perfectly legal, but you make your living off your image, which makes invasive candid photography pretty dickish. Probably best to consider it a loss leader, like when they give away free samples of cheese at the supermarket. Regarding the breach of anonymity and possible later financial consequences: don’t worry. In ten years the whole thing will be moot, because any potential employer is going to use your online records to know EVERYTHING about you before you set foot in the door. It’s already mostly possible now, but whatever anonymity remains today is a byproduct of either: A) a semi-unpublicized black market (for undocumented employees) or B) hiring managers’ age related technophobia.

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Andrew Thomas August 3, 2011 at 4:27 pm

I read your blog entry via a link on Twitter. I want to ask a serious question about this issue without sounding attacking. I have very real concerns about public versus private, especially when it comes to photography. This YouTube video, while based in the UK, points out some of the issues: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FJH9F7Hcluo. There is a very real problem with public vs. private vs. the expectation of privacy. It sounds to me that the woman was taking the photo from a public location, which is perfectly acceptable, legally. However, it also sounds like you and the other women in the photoshoot had the expectation of privacy and may have actually been on private property (depending on where the legal lines are drawn for the strip club property). Therefore, while I find the lady’s actions rude and inappropriate, it seems she has the legal right to take the photos (nevermind whether her behavior was moral or ethical). At the same time, it seems that the strip club and/or professional photographer should’ve taken more steps to protect your privacy for the photoshoot. So, now for my serious question, how do we appropriately balance the expectation of privacy when people are not actually in a private location? I don’t disagree with your stance that you should be afforded a certain amount of privacy, even when in a public space. I also fear though that our desire for privacy will be abused by corporations wanting to avoid transparency. To me, it’s definitely a tricky problem that I don’t believe has a good answer.

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Rocket Rocket August 3, 2011 at 4:42 pm

Andrew Thomas, you ask: “How do we appropriately balance the expectation of privacy when people are not actually in a private location?” I can only respond to that question with what I WISH people would do when the “outing” of sex workers is in question. I wish people would simply ASK to take a picture before doing so, and respect the subject’s answer, whether it be yes or no. I wrote this article in the hopes that people (specifically those taking pictures) will consider the negative impact “outing” can have on a sex worker’s life.

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Hezzy August 3, 2011 at 6:30 pm

I would also like to point out that studios don’t allow people to take photos of movie sets, either. They will take your camera and delete the picture if you do. They don’t want the image publicized ahead of time. Which would obviously be the case when shooting an ad, too.

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Loki August 3, 2011 at 6:48 pm

Hezzy, if you are on public property when you take the photo, then they are running the risk of criminal charges. I take shots of movie sets all the time when they are shooting on location – I just make sure to stay on public property, or private property I have permission to be on.
I can tell you for sure that if someone from their set came over and tried to take my camera (and delete photos), I would be pressing theft and destruction of property charges – and since they would have to physically take it from me, probably assault as well.

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Loki August 3, 2011 at 6:44 pm

Rocket, while I sympathize with your position, the simple fact is that it sounds like the woman had every legal right to be taking photographs, separate from the moral rightness or wrongness of it.
As I’d guess you are aware, in the USA, with very few exceptions, a person has the right to photograph anything they can see from public property, though what they can do with that photograph may be restricted (i.e., commercial use). The few exceptions are states like California, which recognize a right of publicity that heavily restricts the use of images or likenesses of public figures.

Personally, my behavior when taking pictures is going to depend on the situation, of course – I’ll take candids, for instance, on Last Thursday, and if someone doesn’t want there picture taken at Saturday Market, well… let say it is annoying, at the very least, when someone thinks they have a right to privacy when sitting on the sidewalk. On the other hand, I find it in poor taste, at the least, for someone to be taking purposefully, sexually voyeuristic photos (without consent). And interfering in another photographer’s shoot is just plain rude.

It sounds like what you are more worried about is the exposure of people *as* sex workers, or any other objectionable profession (i.e., abortion clinic employees), through photography or any other means. Especially when they did not consent to their picture being taken in that context, or even if they did consent to the photo being taken, did not consent to it’s use in a specific context. This is a problem I’m of two minds of, because while I *don’t* believe in a “right of privacy”, I do understand that our society stigmatizes certain professions. My preferred solution is that society simply shouldn’t do that… but I’m aware how unrealistic an expectation that is.

At the end of your post, you even brought up simply running into someone who only really knows you by your stage name – and if that is the only way they know you, how should they know any better then to call you by it?
Do you see any solution, that allows you to keep your privacy, without unduly infringing on other people’s rights? *Especially* in cases of unintentional “outing” (i.e., being recognized when you don’t wish to be)?

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Jamie August 3, 2011 at 7:11 pm

In a public space there are many rights at play. Some of these rights are protected by law, others we simply expect people to respect. The point, made by Andrew Thomas, is many of these rights will be conflicting thus respecting them all may sometimes be impossible.

The rights focussed on in the post are the right to privacy and, to some extent, copyright. Both are protected to an degree by law but in other cases, clearly the decent thing to do is to ask permission before taking a photo.

Other rights include the right of individuals to report news and the right of artists to make art work. Whilst most photojournalists and artist photographers would consider it preferable to ask permission before taking a photo, often this is either impossible or will significantly affect the photo. Great street photographers such as Garry Winogrand or William Klein would never have been able to take their most famous pictures if they had asked first; the candour of the shot would have been lost. In the case of No Man’s Land, consent would have been impossible but Mishka Henner surely has a right to produce what I think is an interesting work reflecting on the manner in which internet users regard sex workers? If you find this work sensationalising, I think you must have viewed it out of context, it seems quite the opposite to me. Also I wouldn’t concern yourself about the photographer making much financial gain from this work, no one does documentary projects like this for the money.

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Kat Kat August 3, 2011 at 7:19 pm

The kinds of men who are helping themselves to photos of strippers at the bikini car wash aren’t working for National Geographic; they’re stocking up the spank bank.

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Rocket Rocket August 3, 2011 at 7:20 pm

Loki, hello. I’m glad you’ve chosen to comment, as you are a photographer by trade. In this article, I took care not to address the legality of taking someone’s photo. Legality is not in question. Instead, I chose to focus on informing and educating people about the serious implications of “outing” a sex worker through taking pictures. I think it’s at the very least rude and insensitive to take “peeping-tom”-esque photos of scantily-clad women without their consent; and you say it well with this part of your comment: “…I find it in poor taste, at the least, for someone to be taking purposefully, sexually voyeuristic photos (without consent).” I do not necessarily “see any solution, that allows you to keep your privacy, without unduly infringing on other people’s rights” but I do simply ask that people stop and think about how hurtful the implications of that photo could be. On to your next question: “if [your stage name] is the only way they know you, how should they know any better then to call you by it?” If you see a sex worker out in public with company, why not just smile or wave and say “Hey! How are you?” and let them direct the conversation from there? Or, if that seems too awkward, just wave and walk on. Then, I can just tell my grandma I know you from yoga class or something! :)

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Loki August 3, 2011 at 7:42 pm

If we’re not considering the legal issues, then as you pointed out, I basically agree with you.

As for the running into someone on the street, simply not using their name does work. It wasn’t something I had considered, because I’ve always thought of it as rude to *not* say someone’s name when addressing them… It also carries over to other activities/professions, of course.

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fogues August 31, 2011 at 9:46 pm

I just refrain from being the initiator of interaction in public. Making eye contact and smiling, but not saying anything says “Hi” as much as I feel is necessary in that situation. Turns out, it’s a good thing because had I approached someone once, she would have had some explaining to do.

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Kat Kat August 31, 2011 at 11:15 pm

I respect my clients’ anonymity on the occasions that I’ve seen them in public and expect the same courtesy in return. I think even eye contact and smiling can be inappropriate.

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Elle Elle August 4, 2011 at 4:50 pm

The whole ‘no expectation of privacy’ once you leave your dwelling is definitely legal (refer to the case where the man had a camera on his shoe filming up-skirt shots in like…grocery stores..this was last decade I believe) but still infuriating nonetheless.

Even at Slutwalk, there were plenty of topless women, but I would always ask if I could, and all but one said yes. Some people are just so under-stimulated they will try to take whatever they can.

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Ben August 5, 2011 at 3:18 am

At 42 I have been doing photography since I was 17. For me in settings like a car wash or the beach, as a prime example, it is so much easier to ask up front. Women and men will pose for the camera and shockingly will sometimes exchange info to get the photos. Also, if three women say no, and four say yes, be happy with the photos of the four. Just my two cents. Plus, once you are seen as a ‘jerk who did not ask’ you might cringe when in three weeks time you see the same woman at a function you are allowed to shoot. She sees and remembers you, the night will not be pleasant.

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libby August 7, 2011 at 6:11 am

@ Kat – “The kinds of men who are helping themselves to photos of strippers at the bikini car wash aren’t working for National Geographic; they’re stocking up the spank bank.” – agreed. Though I’m guilty.

Of course people want to take shitty cell pics of pretty ladies. I’m sorry that those images often end up online. I would argue that it’s an inevitability now, since half the world has some kind of camera.

As for photography, shooting doc style is incredibly confusing because of consent. It’s legal – don’t ever doubt that, especially now – but picking up an actual camera and shooting strangers is a double-knifed conundrum; you’re the shooter, you’re taking advantage of a person, who becomes a subject, and who may become an even bigger subject if the photo ends up being a part of your job, for which you’re responsible. It’s your job to capture documentary photos.

In my limited experience, civilians shy away from phonecams and cameras because of the same reasons – online exposure. Try shooting wealthy folks, drug dealers or people in Sunday god clothing. They all want to beat or sue you and your camera. But if you’re a doc photographer, then what?

The lesson I’ve learned is ask first, ask quickly, and turn the fuck away when it’s a very clear NO.

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criolle johnny August 30, 2011 at 2:58 pm

It seems the only people who have an “expectation of privacy” are police who cannot be filmed or photographed while “performing their duties”.

I personally DO . NOT . LIKE . CAMERAS . I hate having my picture taken. I have no photos of myself other than my drivers license and another ID. I always walk away at events when someone breaks out the camera, but it seems that the concept of a polite request has been lost.
The one’s who REALLY annoy are the “sneak a pic” freaks who flash a light in my face in a dark club. I have, reflexively, struck a few of those. They had the audacity to get upset.

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Rocket Rocket September 1, 2011 at 1:45 am

Kat brings up a great point: dancers should also respect their customer’s possible need for anonymity. I recall once seeing a regular customer in the grocery store with his wife. As our eyes met, he gave me that “please don’t say hello” look of terror. I just walked by. He gushed his thanks next time he came into the club.

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Etienne Perret September 13, 2011 at 7:53 am

If you do not want to be seen or photographed, do not leave the house. Better yet draw the shades.

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Eric November 29, 2011 at 4:21 pm

Hi, Rocket.

I agree with the idea of decency/morality in asking before taking. In my perspective, the real issue is a lack of Human decency/ respect. No one ought to be judging you for your chosen profession. Of course, like many things, ideals and the “real” world are at odds.

On the flip side of the coin, I respect your chosen profession, although I am of the thinking that being outed by photos is a job hazard you accept when you enter the trade- if you want to make stripper money, you have to take stripper risks, which include possible outing. My profession has some pretty daunting risks as well, although I accepted those risks when I chose my career in lieu of another less-paying, lower risk one.

I am curious, however, as to your concern for privacy, as you have photos all over the place. Did you “come out”, so to speak, as a stripper st some point?

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Rocket Rocket November 29, 2011 at 6:27 pm

Well, yes. I “came out” to some members of my family (all of whom live very far away) before they came to Portland to visit me. I figured that they’d see me in advertisements for my club once they were here or that a customer would speak to me about work in their presence.

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Stephanie February 10, 2014 at 5:35 pm

I can understand the urge to want to take a photo of someone you find so interesting; sex workers are fun and exciting! There is something big to be said for restraint and kindness. I would feel violated if someone photographed me without my permission regardless of my attire (Perhaps not so much if I were performing an activity specifically FOR the public, like fire-breathing downtown or something, but still). I have had the overwhelming urge to take photos of people before, and usually they allow it if you ask politely; if they don’t, it harms you absolutely not one bit. Legalities and chances of occurrence don’t matter. Respect your fellow humans. Don’t be a dick.

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