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’ve just photographed a tall thin naked transvestite whore in a MacArthur Park motel room and I’m in a good mood. The air is misty and cold. I’m walking the wrong way back to the car, trying to maneuver with my cane and camera down a blacktop hill past a motel corridor. A door opens and Sweet Adeline, an aging tart in search of a John, steps out from a room. We both stop and look at each other.
She says, “What are you doing out here all alone at four in the morning?”
“Well, a second ago I was lost but now I’m found. I’ve got $25 which I’d be happy to give you if we could go back to your room and take some pictures.”
“You just got lucky,” she tells me.
“Yeah, well, I guess things have taken a turn.”
“My sister and her boyfriend are in the room. Is that OK?”
“I don’t mind if they don’t mind.”
It’s late. I should be heading home but I still have money I haven’t spent and it’s still a couple of hours before sunup, which seems somehow relevant. She tells me to call her Sweet Adeline and I tell her to call me Scot. She opens the door and before we can go in, a guy comes out. He’s black and puffing on a cigar. He looks like he should be wearing a derby. He gives me a nod and keeps going. She tells me that’s her sister’s boyfriend and she guesses he’s gotta go do something. The room is two double beds and a ten-year-old antique television. Giant, with Liz Taylor, James Dean, and Rock Hudson is on and turned down low. Sweet Adeline’s sister is sitting on the stage-right bed smoking a cigarette. Sweet Adeline introduces the room. “This is Scot and he’s going to take pictures of me and this is my sister, Nancy.”
Sweet Adeline tells me she’s wearing some sexy frillies below deck and would I like that for the pictures. I tell her good idea, let’s take a look, and I dig the $25 from my pocket and pay in advance. James Dean is covered in oil and making a scene and in another few seconds he’s going to hit Rock Hudson in the stomach with an exaggerated undercut. Nancy lights a new cigarette from the butt of the old one. There’s a wheelchair folded up and leaning on the wall; it’s old and looks like it needs a tune-up. Sweet Adeline is down to her matching frilly undergarments. She tosses her pants across the room and says, “Ta da! How do I look? Pretty good, huh?”
I tell her she looks pretty damn cute and she says you mean pretty sexy, don’t ya?
“Cute and sexy,” I say and Nancy agrees. “Cute and sexy, little girlie.”
“You better know it.” Sweet Adeline smacks her ass with the flat of her hand and climbs onto the bed. “OK, five pictures. Five pictures of me in my frillies, that’s five dollars each so you better get ready.”
I take a spot at the foot of the bed.
“One,” she says and I make a head and shoulders.
“Two,” she gives me a side view and I suck in the zoom to take it all in.
“Three,” she scissors a leg up into the air.
“Four,” she twirls around on all fours and shows me her butt.
“Five,” she stands up on the bed and does a kind of Ann-Margret thing with her hands on her knees. I push the button and convert her image into pixels.
“That’s all the pictures you get, but if you got some more money you could crawl up in this bed with me, Nancy don’t mind.”
“That’s right,” Nancy says. “You an’ girlie can do whatever you want, I’m just watching television.”
“Not tonight, thanks. My money’s all gone anyway. Can I get a quick picture of the two of you together before I go?”
“OK, yeah. One picture of Me and Nancy.” Nancy shrugs agreement and Sweet Adeline sits next to her on the bed, cheek to cheek, and I clack the shutter.
“We’re together forever, me and my sister, because there’s nothin’ more important than family. We didn’t see each other for nine years, because we couldn’t, ya know. But we’re not gonna do that again. I’m gonna let you take one more picture of us together because that’s the way we are: together.” She leans back on the bed and puts her arm around Nancy; puts her head on Nancy’s shoulder. Nancy sets a hand on Sweet Adeline’s thigh and they both look at me and for a moment it feels like we are all going to start crying, but I pop the flash and make a picture and then the moment is over.
On the way out the door Sweet Adeline asks me what am I going to do with the pictures. I tell her I’m going to put them online and write a little story to go with them and is that all right with her?
“Yeah, that’s OK,” she says. “What’s my story about?”
“It’s about a sexy lady named Sweet Adeline and it’s about how I got lucky.”
Previously - Cats Fucking
Scot’s first book, Lowlife, was released last year. You can find more information on his website.