Scot Sothern is a Los Angeles-based photographer and a big prostitute fan. He has been interacting with and photographing hookers since the 1960s, and his images have been widely exhibited in galleries in the US, Canada, and Europe. Scot's pictures evoke such a visceral reaction in the viewer and raise so many questions, we decided to give Scot a regular column aimed at getting the story behind the photo. The idea is simple: We feature an image from Scot’s archive along with his explanation of just exactly what the fuck was going on when he took it. Welcome to Nocturnal Submissions.
I pluck Havana from a gaggle of streetwalkers on Stanford Street somewhere around Pico. She tells me she’s from Mexico, here in the land of opportunity to reap rewards on streets of gold. Havana is dressed in flesh Spanx and a sparkly little halter top. I’ve lost my bearings, but Havana knows where we are, so she navigates. Even the dirtiest streets of Los Angeles are beautiful and quiet in the dark antimeridian. My headlights bring up globs of primary colors across old industrial buildings. Havana’s makeup is thick and colorful. She bounces on the seat and keeps rubbing and squeezing my dick through my Levis.
I tell her I only want to take pictures, but she has a Pavlovian response to guys in cars with money. “Why no want nothing more?” she asks and gives me a couple of pleasant pumps. “Feels good, Poppy. Hard, like you want Havana more.”
I try to explain that the firmness she’s feeling is only because I have a Pavlovian response to people squeezing my dick, but really this is just for pictures. I’m reformed.
She brings me to an old three-floor flop that looks like it’s made of mud. Under the street lamps, a fraternity of six—pushers, addicts, and baby gangsters using up their short life spans—are walking in circles without a forward thought. If I squint hard enough into the shadows I can see Death in his black hoody and scythe. I park, and we beeline across the street to Havana’s place. I have my cane, and I’m walking slowly. Havana leads, keeping close. She offers me her hand, but I tell her no thanks—that it’s just likely to throw me off balance.
A tatterdemalion brown guy staggers toward us. “Friend, amigo,” he says and gets a little too close.
“Back up,” I tell him. “I don’t need you here. Go on, go away.”
He’s holding the remains of an old disk player. The top is gone leaving the innards exposed, and there is a tiny blackened analog TV screen.
“Twenty dollars,” the guy tells me. “Laptop. Good laptop.”
I shoo him away, tell him thanks for the offer, but I’m saving up for an iPhone. His face is tight and strained, and, for a moment, I think he might attack. Havana throws a string of foreign words at him, telling him to fuck off. He just stands there, but we keep moving.
Havana has a key to the barred backdoor, and we go in. It smells like cigarette butts and perspiration. We go down six steps into a long claustrophobic hallway that’s tilted like a German Expressionist tunnel. She has another key that opens another door, and we go in. Her room is small and dumpy but clean and cared for. On the other side of a doorway, without a door leading to the bathroom, I hear a leaky shower and smell an overdose of lavender. She has a double bed made up with clean sheets and a pillow with a Masters Of The Universe pillow slip. “Hey,” I say. “You got He-Man.”
“Si si, yes,” she says. “He-Man, Skeletor.”
“She-Ra,” she says with wide-eyed longing.
Next to the bathroom, a chest-high chest of drawers sits under a big flatscreen television. I ask Havana to turn it on, and she tells me no, no, it’s only pornography like she figures I’m somehow above porn. “Yeah, yeah,” I tell her. “Turn it on.” It’ll make a nice background.
We take some pictures by the television, and then we take pictures on the bed. Havana likes the camera, she’s fun and cuddly and disappointed when, after about ten exposures, I’m all done. She still has a couple more hours to work tonight, so I drive her back to her spot with the other girls. On our way to the car, the laptop salesman gives it another try. Havana calls him stupid, drug stupid, and hisses in his face. In the car, she tells me she came here, to America, because Mexico has been decimated from a drug war, and now the fodder of that war is here as well, staggering past her doorway. I listen and agree, and then I give her a little kiss goodbye.
Previously - Sticking a Used Condom to the Wall