The photo series and accompanying book “Kurfürstenstraße” is a portrait of the area in and around Kurfürstenstraße (Kurfürsten Street) in Berlin. The area has been a known haunt of prostitution for the past 130 years.
The German capital is one of only two cities in the country which does not have a restricted area for sex work; contact between sex workers and customers and the sex work itself often take place within residential areas. Due to the rapidly changing demographics of the area, streetwalking is becoming more marginalized and tensions are rising as secluded places to do sex work are fast disappearing.
The trigger for this project was a short encounter with a woman in front of my apartment building. Her body language made me uneasy in the semi-darkness of my doorstep but there was also something about her that drew me in. One evening I asked if I could make a portrait of her. Her delighted reaction was the exact opposite of what I expected. Local residents in an area frequented by sex workers learn quickly to accept and adapt to the heterogeneous juxtaposition of street prostitution and daily life. It is like oil and water. But my encounter with this woman began to break down the barriers. My interest wasn't in making portraits of sex workers; it was about showing the unique character of this district.
I ended up working as a volunteer at “OLGA,” a cozy center that feels like a living room, located directly on Kurfürstenstraße. It’s predominantly a counseling center for sex workers, offering all kinds of assistance for everyday life such as beds, showers, laundry facilities and clean injecting equipment. It has a strictly no-men policy, allowing sex workers to take a break and relax. Besides the challenges that come with working on the street every day, the women regularly have to deal homelessness, addiction, gambling and lack of social benefits and are often the sole provider for their families. Rates for sex work are low and the women must work long hours to make the money they need every day.
In 2013, together with “Olga,” we received a grant to implement a PhotoVoice project with the sex workers. It was around this time that I started to make my portrait of the area. Because of my involvement in the PhotoVoice project I was allowed to gain a deeper insight into the day-to-day struggles that these women face. Walking around with them opened up my view of the area and revealed new layers for my own pictures. My motifs softened and I did away with needlessly loud pictures. I wanted to create a feeling that lingers with the viewer without being explicit. These photographs should work like pieces of a puzzle; portraying only a fragmented idea of the reality.
This work was part of the master under the direction of Ute Mahler at the HAW Hamburg.
- analog // 2013 - 2015
- Book 'Kurfürstenstraße' - 148 Pages // 13 x 21 cm // Texts from the sexworkers at the end