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

  • Daniel D. Teoli Jr

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

  • Leigh Alanna

    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.

  • Leigh Alanna

    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.