On the Game
Male prostitution is, from a photographic point of view, as tempting as it is dangerous. The visual pitfalls are numerous. Pictures of good-looking, nude boys on a bed, who do not want to be recognized and have therefore turned away their faces, may be appealing, but they confirm the existing stereotype, namely disposable bodies without identities. Another cliché is the portrayal of wasted boy prostitutes on Central Station. However, there is another reality which shows that male prostitution is far more diverse.
Prostitution in the Netherlands is related to a lot of negative things: drugs, abuse, paedophilia, poverty (strangely enough) and AIDS. Male prostitution of course does not escape these connotations, but here in the Netherlands, with its liberal stance towards sex and the sex-industry, I could imagine that there was more to it than meets the eye.
After numerous preparations, a grant from the Anne Cornelis Foundation made it possible that I submerged myself for two years in the world of call-boys and gay brothels. The choice to photograph the organized gay prostitution was a very conscious one, since I was not interested in confirming all the preconceptions (see above) that already existed, but to show a new representation of the phenomenon.
The thing that struck me the most was the absence of force or despair. The boys did it because of the money, and for no other reason (or it had to be the occasional sexual thrill). Money is the only master of the business and if the brothel owners didn’t pay them enough, they would go to another brothel or start for themselves (a thing that not happened very often, because the club secures their safety, something that is very hard to establish when you are on your own). It was a ongoing game between the managers, the boys and the customers. Of course you wanted champagne if the customer offered you a drink, because that is the most expensive! They were very conscious about what they were doing and they also knew it would not last forever. Most of the boys I met were in between jobs or study and made a quick buck for a year or two, three. No sad stories about abuse, drugs or other tragedies, beside the everyday drama of ‘what to wear’! Of course there were brawls (about money of course…) and I’m sure I was not told everything, but the whole atmosphere lacked the tragic events that were depicted in the media concerning gay prostitution. I’m sure that if I concentrated on the street prostitution, these stories would be numerous, but this world was already known to the masses and seemed to be the only thing known to them. The only thing I wanted to show is that the kaleidoscope of prostitution is very wide.
I don’t want to say too much about the pictures, because I want the viewer to make up their own opinions. Though photographed in the Netherlands, I think that the world I show is pretty much universal. Needless to say that all the boys were over 18. I worked on this project between 1998 till 2000. The book appeared in 2006 and will be featured in 'The Photobook: A History Volume lll' by Gerry Badger & Martin Parr (will be published in March, 2014).