Photographer Discreetly Captures Roadside Prostitutes as They Wait for Customers

Txema Salvans

Txema Salvans

Spanish photographer Txema Salvans captures a unique view of prostitution happening in urban and rural roadside locations along Spain’s Meditarranean coast in The Waiting Game. Collected over a period of six years, these images are remarkably intriguing. Blending into the surrounding scenery as if part of the landscape, these women are not the central focus of Txema’s frame, rather they sit waiting just on the periphery. The women also seem to be in the middle of nowhere, and in fact, they are. They are on the side of highways, secondary highways, and small byways that run from town to town. And while these roads are considered more discrete and low-key, they are still well traveled—many take them to avoid having to pay the toll for the main highways, and trucks carrying goods and fruits take these roads from Andalucia to France.

Knowing that these women would likely not want their photos taken for obvious reasons, Salvans cleverly disguised himself as a surveyor, accompanied by an assistant carrying a surveyor’s pole. He managed to get some fascinating shots, ones that present these women in a much larger context. We see quiet moments of waiting, unaware of what these women may have just experienced or of what’s to come.

Txema Salvans

Txema Salvans

Txema Salvans

Txema Salvans

Txema Salvans

Txema Salvans

Txema Salvans

Txema Salvans

Txema Salvans

Txema Salvans

Txema Salvansv

Txema Salvans

via Oitzarisme

  • ‘Disguised himself as a surveyor, accompanied by an assistant carrying a surveyor’s pole’…that is dedication!
    Thanks for the reportage!

  • So, Salvans figured that these women would not want to participate in his art (for free) at great personal risk to themselves, and so his solution was to make sure that he didn’t have to ask their permission before profiting from their labor?

    He didn’t unknowingly, unthinkingly violate the consent of his “models” — he deliberately went out of his way to make sure that they did not even have the opportunity to consent to be a part of his work. From which he will profit and they will not. Whatever you may think of sex work, this is a deliberate violation of personal boundaries and a clear case of labor exploitation, no different than the creeps who take upskirt photos in shopping malls.

    This is fucking disgusting, whorephobic garbage, and any decent artist with one shred of integrity should be distancing themselves from the bullshit like it’s made of lava.

  • James
  • Phil Schifley

    This is moralistic and patronizing at best, and exploitative at worst. To shoot these women without their consent on knowledge just serves to dehumanize them and pass judgment on what they’re doing without looking at the why behind it. I agree with Leigh Alanna; this is garbage.

  • Passionkiller

    there are no redeeming qualities to this bullshit. Disgusting, will note the name and avoid in future

  • Tobias W.

    Sorry, but I think you miss the point – completely.

    How is the documentation of ongoing actions IN PUBLIC SPACE in any way shape or form immoral?

    These women did not contribute at any expense or with any effort to the creation of these images. Nothing was taken from them by force or otherwise in the way these images were made.

    Furthermore, I can appreciate these images for what they are: a documentation of reality. Not staged. Unaltered. I also think that there is a certain kind of dignity in these images. The images are pleasing to the eye, the women integrate into the landscape. No doubt have these images an artistic value.

    Then to the “whorephobic” claim you made: I rather think it’s you who is “whorephobic” as you’d rather not see or have anybody show what’s really going on on the side of these streets. You can close your eyes from reality, but that doesn’t mean this street side prostitution doesn’t go on. These images are not judging anybody, they merely record reality – with a romantic subtlety of the way they were framed. The only person judging – with hate – is you.

    Just my opinion. Take it for what it’s worth.

  • I’m unlikely to be whorephobic, as I’m a sex worker myself — hence my awareness of the risk that Salvas is nonconsensually putting them at by photographing them and publicizing their images. While he may have a legal right to do so, ethically, it is simply not the same as photographing people in a crowd on the sidewalk — these women are working in a criminalized environment, and the publication of their faces could put them at risk of legal consequences, put them in danger in their communities, and expose them more directly to the stigma that they and other people like me face. To be crystal clear, since it apparently wasn’t — I absolutely, one hundred per cent, believe in the right of these women and all of the rest of us to do sex work as we choose to, and in our right to do so in safety and without stigma. I’m not faulting Salvas for talking about sex work — sex work should be talked about. But sex workers need to lead the discussion, and it is NEVER acceptable to out sex workers without their consent, especially as long as we live in a world where doing so can put them at such high risk. If you want art about the experiences of sex workers, about the way we “fit into the landscape” — then go find the copious, beautiful, engaging work about sex work experiences made by sex workers themselves. Go read Prose and Lore, or any one the innumerable memoirs that have been published. Go see the RedUP Trans Women Improv Theater troupe. Art like Salvas is tired and cliched (no matter how pretty it may be) — speaking OVER sex workers (which is what he is doing when he uses their images without giving them the opportunity to display their own agency, or, again, even to consent to being a part of his little art project) is a dull and overdone trope in the art world. Everyone likes to use the images of sex workers — aside from the consent issues involved, this is art of poor quality, because it’s art that does not think one little bit.

  • Tobias W.

    You still don’t get it. Sorry.

    You claim to speak in person as a sex worker and yet you use a very offensive and negative word to relate to sex workers: ‘whore’ as in ‘whorephobic’. That doesn’t make sense to me.

    The other important point you’re missing is that these street side sex workers are already at risk, even without a documentary photographer pointing his lens at them and publishing his work. Anybody, including the police, rivaling organised pimps etc. could just visit these places and identify these women. They are ALREADY exposed. Nothing happens in addition by just documenting and showing what already happens at the side of these streets. In other words: they put themselves at risk in the first place. Don’t blame the guy who documents public space.

    If it’s illegal to pursue sex work in Spain, it’s not the photographer’s fault to expose these women – it’s these women’s risk – not that I use the word risk instead of fault – to be in these public locations and pursue an illegal trade.

    Art and journalism have a moral duty and obligation to show what’s going on – within legal boundaries. None of these boundaries were crossed.

    I believe in freedom of art and journalism. In this context, I appreciate this photographer’s work.

  • parkwood1920

    No, you don’t get it.

    Knowing that these women would likely not want their photos taken for obvious reasons, Salvans cleverly disguised himself as a surveyor, accompanied by an assistant carrying a surveyor’s pole.

    That’s all I need to know about him. He didn’t care about their boundaries. He didn’t care that he would be exposing them to police harassment or worse. He just wanted his shot. Whether the women wanted him to take their images or not, he was going to get his shot regardless. Their feelings about it be damned. That makes him a predator.

    Being an “artist” doesn’t absolve you of unethical behavior. Nor does it excuse predation. Ever.

  • Sephi Bergerson

    A valid discussion as it is of course a sensitive subject to approach. As documentary photographers we should show respect to our subject. However, some work will never exist if permission was required. Technically well done, aesthetically beautiful, this work, done over six years, has a new perspective and could not have been done if consent was requested. I see no harm done to anyone. Leave aside the fact that this is public domain, non of these women will ever be recognized because they appear in these images. The photographs depict a reality that exists and should not be ignored.
    For comparison we can look at the work of Koheo Yoshiyuki in his book The Park. Same things can be said about that work but it is appreciated worldwide despite it’s voyeurism aspect. All a matter of point of view and timing. More examples can be given of course.

  • Tobias W.

    Your statement is ridiculous – and potentially insulting to victims of actual predators. How someone can compare documenting public space with being a predator is beyond face-palms, really.
    Taking photographs in public space, candidly or without consent by people in public space is neither unethical, nor offensive. Documenting real life, even controversial aspects, is a high priority mission for artists and journalists. If documentation was unethical, there wouldn’t be any war photography, there wouldn’t be photography documenting criminal actions (and criminals) and so on. What these women do is controversial – yes. But they do it at their own risk, including the risk of someone with an interest documenting it. Don’t blame the photographer. If you hustle on the side of the street, being documented candidly is a risk you need to accept. Art and journalism are free to pursue their mission, there’s no two ways about that.
    Now, given we both have opposing views, I’d still appreciate it if no more stupid comparisons like ‘predator’ be used. That’s just ridiculous. Thanks.

  • parkwood1920

    Yeah, you’re defending the cowardly photographer who pretended to be a surveyor so he could snap shots of sex workers without their consent, but I’m ridiculous. You just ‘splained to Leigh Alanna above about the dangers of her own profession, but I’m ridiculous. You blame the women in these photos for choosing the risk to be sex workers, then excuse the actions of the man who intentionally put them in danger by publicizing and making money off their faces without their consent, but I’m ridiculous. Rich.

    You think that some guy’s right to make money off of so-called art is more important than sex workers’ right to not get killed. His choice to use sex workers as a career opportunity is these women’s own fault. He’s not responsible for anything. But I’m ridiculous. Lord.

  • Tobias W.

    Face it, consent is neither required nor helpful. This artistic vision wouldn’t have been possible to execute, even if some of the women would have agreed to be photographed. These images show reality not staged and unaltered, which is why they are this capturing.

    You claim the photographer put them intentionally in danger. Can you solidify these claims? What danger? Please be specific. Please provide evidence. Do you know of anything bad happened to any of these women because of these images?

    Wouldn’t a rational person rather agree that just pursuing this profession in the first place (maybe even illegally, I don’t know Spanish law) and standing at the roadside puts them in danger in the first place? Where is the photographer’s responsibility for that? Right, non-existent.

  • iambeingnate

    Tobias, you are correct that documenting real life, even controversial aspects of it, is a high priority mission for artists and journalists. But good photographers and journalists consider the consequences of documentation, both for their subjects as well as themselves. The book Photographs Not Taken by Will Steacy addresses topics like what you’re debating with essays from 62 experienced photographers.

    I appreciate that you have a perspective on the rights of subjects and obligations of photographers, but it is naive one, particularly in your inability to empathize.

  • jeffseltzer

    I think the crosses the ethical line. Anytime you find yourself putting on a disguise and photographing people in public, that’s a big red flag. This is even worse, in my opinion (read: my opinion) than photographing sleeping homeless people. It’s too bad, because this could have been a really interesting project had the photographer really attempted to document their lives with permission. I would have liked to see the photos of them at work, along with photos of them at home, with family, etc. I would have liked to see these woman more humanized. For me, photographing them in secret like this just adds to the stereotype and negative stigma. Come on! I’ve seen documentary series on transgenders, domestic violence, gang members, and more – in these cases, the photographer worked with the subjects and told a well-rounded story. This feels creepy and half-baked.

  • borealishines

    You’re missing the big part about this. The artist is not a journalist documenting real life. He’s a photgrapher dressed up as a surveyor.

    Journalists do not dress up to decieve the subject they’re documenting. They walk up to them, speak with them politely and get a bit of back story and hopefully a name and ask if it would be alright to observe them doing what they do. They work hard because they’re going to get a lot of no answers but they move along until someone says yes. It’s hard work.

    What you’re not getting is that this isn’t jornalism. It’s exploitation and I agree, very dangerous for these women.

  • Tobias W.

    I don’t agree. Everybody keeps repeating the same questionable claims of consequences these pictures have for the depicted. Where is the evidence for that?! Is there ANY evidence these pictures have negative consequences? If photographers cannot make and publish pictures because they always have to consider consequences that might or might not be real, there would be no art and journalism.

    Show me where these images have hurt legal rights or led to negative consequences and I might change my opinion. Until then, please don’t bother me with a restrictive view on photography, documentation and journalism.

  • Tobias W.

    Your first paragraph doesn’t make any sense at all. Only when the photographer is NOT interfering with the scene by being perceived as something else, real life can be documented.

    I still cannot see where the exploitation is supposed to be. Can you please explain where the photographer has taken something that doesn’t belong to him? Photographing people (no matter what their activity and motivation) in PUBLIC SPACE is never exploitation in most western countries. If something happens in public space, it’s ALWAYS ok to photograph it.

  • iambeingnate

    Your lack of empathy is evidenced in your inability to understand what the consequences, evidenced or not, of one person’s actions on another are.

    You’re focusing on absolutes, what’s legal or not legal, not the human element. If you truly know so much about art and documentary photography, you know that the publication of an image can dramatically change a culture and an environment.

    These women may work at specific locations because there’s an amount of safety provided in them, both the physical space and in people who inhabit and pass through them. Given the nature of these locations and the nature of their work, they are likely personally known to those in their locations, and their work is tolerated (like it is in your ideal free society) by those in proximity. Local authorities may accept their prostitution, maybe because the local culture tolerates it, maybe because of person to person agreements. A balance typically exists for situations like the ones shown in the images to exist and persist. It is a high risk profession and a hard one, but by managing the environment, risk can be mitigated.

    When photograph like these are taken and published, the whole system is exposed and the risks multiply. Local authorities may have to answer to higher ones. Maybe some were arrested after local police had to crack down after people got upset that these photos were published. Maybe they’ve not been able to work with the new attention in these locations and they’re starving. Women might become subject to a more random audience, one more inclined to violent criminal acts against what they see as a random prostitute – the sort of prostitute the locals knew as a person with a name and protected. What if scenarios can be created ad infinitum.

    Asking for evidence in this case doesn’t do anything for either one of our arguments. You can’t prove these women are still safe and we can’t prove they’ve been harmed. That’s because the photographer provided only these images, no context, no story, no names, no details for us. Without any way to follow up on the lives of these women, there’s nothing for either one of us to do but speculate. But given the stats on crime against sex workers, a negative epilogue is more likely than a positive one.

    I have no idea why there’s a huge shot of me there. Apparently I can’t edit it out. Sorry about that.

  • Tobias W.

    The exposure happening by photography is not photography’s problem, it’s a problem that has already been there, unaware to society and irregardless of whether cameras capture it or not. All photography does is dragging the problem to the attention of the public. That’s exactly the purpose of photography, art and journalism in general.

    Don’t shoot the messenger, so to speak.

    Of course you can show “empathy” and choose to ignore whatever is going on in society that is worth discussing and raising attention to. But please don’t call that the best practice in art, journalism and photography, because that would be just ridiculous.

  • Heike

    this ”photographer” IS a predator. he wasn’t taking pictures of street signs, or trees and there just HAPPENED to be a female in the shot. he intentionally took pictures of these women without their knowledge or consent. any decent human being would have asked first, at the very least. sex work IS dangerous. funny, not one trick/john/client was pictured here, just the women. kind of makes you think, or it should, anyway. i, too, have been a sex worker for many years. i’m over 50 now and still making enough money to add to my portfolio and make a living. clearly you have no idea what you’re commenting about. have you ever used the services of a sex worker? ever BEEN a sex worker? if you haven’t, you have absolutely no clue. until this country, hell, this world, calls off it’s tired old ethics *yes, that was a plug for COYOTE* then deviants like this lame excuse for a photographer will keep shaming others and believing that his motives are pure all the while blaming women for their choice to earn an income.

  • Tobias W.

    Again, anybody calling this photographer a “predator” is out of their mind.

    Stop watering down the definition of what a sex offender is (because a photographer operating WITHIN THE LEGAL BOUNDARIES IN PUBLIC SPACE is NOT).

    It doesn’t really matter if I have ever used the services of a prostitute or offered services as a prostitute to know that someone who is documenting activities in PUBLIC SPACE is neither a criminal or doing anything wrong.

    If this photographer had done something wrong, go sue him. Go challenge him legally.

    Yeah, right. I didn’t think so.

  • mememe

    beautiful work. Documenting what prostitution is like in spain (I am spanish, I should know) is a great need and had to be done. I don’t see any disrespect towards the sex workers depicted here, at the contrary: distant angle, discreet way to integrate them in their surroundings.
    As a street photographer myself, I know for a fact (unlike many people here) that asking for permission is NOT an option in most of the cases. Public space has to be documented as it is: raw, sometimes unpleasant, REAL.

    Showing people, being fascinated in what they do in the public space, this is not exploitation nor voyeurism. This is curiosity, exploration and, ultimately, testimony.

    Politically correctness can be a real pain in the butt…

  • mememe

    Can you criticize a body of work without insulting the artist? That would be greatly appreciated.
    This is controversial and rises a lot of questions, no doubt. But ad hominem attacks and offensive insults are no arguments.
    Thank you.

  • ebolonono

    Great, another creep reaping the benefit off of women. he didn’t take any time to get to know them, watched them as a voyeur, got what he needed from them and went on his way. That is what is called steeling, when there is no exchange between two parties and the likely hood of one is being benefited to the other without any knowledge.

  • Bj Formento

    Painterly beautiful portraits in landscape. The photographer did what he had to do to get the shot. In my opinion, he should’ve approached them show the existing work he had amassed over the years and pay them for their time. He can still keep it “documentary” and not stage their poses if that is what he is after. But these working women deserved to get paid.

  • John MacPherson

    Tobias – I have just one point to make: sex-workers?

    Says who?

    The photographer.

    So how does he know?

    He doesn’t, he just made it up. He never asked them, so all he’s doing is guessing.

    I could do the same work and say they are “ikea chair testers” or “women waiting for taxi to go to a fancy-dress party” or “nuclear physicists enjoying some time off”.

    Problem is that IF these women were actually doing any of the things I mentioned, to call them “prostitutes” could have consequences for them that did not exist before that label was arbitrarily applied to them.

    Cameras work both ways. They reveal two sides. We have no idea who the women in front of the camera are, nor what they are doing. But we certainly know what the man was doing.

    You like to talk about real life and reality, well the only ‘reality’ here is the man’s deceit.

    The women ‘saw’ a man dressed up and assumed he was a surveyor, but he was actually a ‘photographer’.

    The photographer ‘saw’ a woman dressed up and assumed she was a prostitute, but she could have been anything.

    This is not ‘documentary’ not ‘journalism’ it’s guesswork, made-up stuff. And as a consequence, exploitative.

    And what is troubling is that you foolishly and unquestioningly buy into that ‘lie’ and talk about “hustlers” and “these street-side sex workers” and “illegal trade” and so on. How do you know that is the truth? You dont.

    It is all supposition. And you fell for it.

    What does that make you?

  • John Quick

    What evidence do you have that these women will not be recognised as a result of these images? How do you know that one of them, for example is married but perhaps her family do not know that she does this?

  • John MacPherson

    I agree with you regarding the work – I love the aesthetic and admire the treatment of place & human figure. And I don’t have a problem with, as you describe it, “curiosity” and “exploration” of life and recording what goes on ‘in the street’ or in ‘public space’. None at all.

    What I do have a problem with is people then making up ‘comment’ to describe whats going on in those images. LIke you for instance. You state “documenting what prostitution is like in Spain”, and “sex workers”. Like the photographer, you’re making that up, it’s an assumption. You didn’t ask the women what they’re doing, you see a woman dressed in a particular way, and in a remote location and in your mind that = prostitute.

    It might just be untrue.

    You also make the ‘assumption’ that other photographers commenting are not street photographers and are ignorant of the reality of working on the street. We’re not.

    Without the voice of the subject, the only “testimony” this represents is the photographer’s, and that is a disingenuous one. And as a consequence of that women are put at risk. And not only these women.

    What about women somewhere else, not photographed here, but dressed similarly, in a remote location waiting for bus to a party and assaulted by a man who has read this article/seen these pictures and makes the same erroneous assumption about the status of the women.

    The work is excellent, technically, aesthetically, but the assumptions made about the subject is a fiction, and should not be passed off as fact without being questioned.

    Simply presenting the work as a thematic series and leaving the ‘assumptions’ about the subject’s profession to the viewer would have been far more appropriate, as in doing so it would be raising questions about the viewer’s experience and knowledge, allowing THEIR interpretation to create the ‘reality’ that these images represent. The ‘reality’ that is only a ‘fiction’ in their mind. Without lables already guessed at and applied, the women are whatever the viewer wants them to be, and when not in these locations are something else, mother, daughter, sister, lover.

    Labeling them as the photographer has done has for me has reduced the impact of this work.

  • Tobias W.

    All relevant points in these discussion have been made (just read my other responses). The photographer photographed these women as they were acting within public space – there is legally nothing wrong with this – it doesn’t matter that he did this candidly and using distraction. And besides, it’s more than obvious what profession these women are working in, guesswork is unnecessary, so I didn’t “fall” for anything.

  • John MacPherson

    I’ve not questioned the “legality” of the work, so don’t try distraction.

    You say:

    “And besides, it’s more than obvious what profession these women are
    working in, guesswork is unnecessary, so I didn’t “fall” for anything.”

    “More than obvious” – there’s the problem. It’s only what you think they’re doing. You have no idea at all for sure.

    Which makes this guesswork, and exploitative guesswork at that.

    That you uncritically ‘swallow’ that makes you look foolish.

  • A very real inside look which is too much bordering the line of personal privacy for me. It may be innocent people watching, but is there some permission that the photographer can get? It’s still something international we aren’t used to here in the States. -Jackson

  • Kent Johnson

    Like being a prostitute is not high risk anyway, ESPECIALLY on the outskirts of town not in a brothel! This series is not an additional risk to the subjects. HELLO!

  • iambeingnate

    Welcome to the party, Kent! You’re late, haven’t contributed anything new, and you’re wrong anyway. HELLLLOOOooooooooooooo!

  • Geof Kirby

    Interesting point, but why should I be forced into buying into her lie ? Could equally be that her next door neighbour spots her activities and alerts her family. What happens in public spaces is – err- public.

  • trackership

    Salvans deliberately aimed to have them be small or obscured within the frame so as to reduce the likelihood of them being recognized.

  • trackership

    Wow, there are a lot of people on here who are ignoring that vast numbers of quality street photography series that are wonderful and admired were also shot without any regard for their subjects’ permission. Shooting without permission is basically the definition of street photography. You have no reasonable claim to privacy in a public space.

  • trackership

    Does every subject in street photographs deserve to be paid or just prostitutes?

  • trackership

    Prostitution is decriminalized in Spain. NOT illegal.

  • No! The body of work isn’t the offensive issue here. As the resident village idiot Tobias W. states, they are women in public space.

    It is the additional notes by the “artist” that are offensive. Txema is a professional photographer. He labelled the women as prostitutes. He “knew” they probably didn’t want to be photographed. He hired an assistant to hold a surveyors pole. He disguised himself as a surveyor. He chose not to take/publish photos with the client.

    An artist should have the integrity and the cajones to hold his camera up, take the photo, and then deal with any subject who took offence at his actions.

    Instead he came, as pickpocket, “what they won’t miss, won’t hurt them”. Worse he brags about his subterfuge to promote his “art”.

    At least Matisse, Bellocq, Sothern and others spoke to their subjects and found common ground and consent.

  • You are right – there is no reasonable claim to privacy in the public space.

    The objectionable, cowardly and foul part of this is that the photographer made his subterfuge part of the narrative.

    He uses his disguise as a selling point on the series.

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