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 see a streetwalker on the southwest corner in front of the Bank of America. She’s between 30 and 60 and looks at me like I’m just another creep. It’s late and there’s not much traffic. I pull to the curb and zip down the window but she keeps her distance, checking me out for killer-rapist tells.
“Hey,” I say. “How’s it going?”
She has pretty blue eyes, kinked-out blond locks, and a face set in a permanent flinch. She is large-breasted and surrounded by girth. She comes to me slowly, like I’m going to bite her hand if she gets too close. “You want a ride?” I ask.
“How far you going?”
“All the way, hop in. I’ll take you wherever you want to go, and I’ll give you $20 if I can take your picture.”
She’s looking all around, for police, or a car better than mine to get into. “OK. I’m going to Hollywood and La Brea. Can you give me $30?”
“Yeah, I can do that. Do you have a room where we can take pictures?”
“No. Yes. No. OK.”
She grabs the door handle and gives it a tug but it’s locked. I unlock her door with the switch on mine and she tugs again but her timing is off. Now I’m not sure if the door is locked or unlocked so I hit the switch again, which is hiding in the dark, and she tugs again and it doesn’t open. I hit the switch one more time, kachunk, and she gets in. The signal is green and the cars coming toward me are distant so I go from the right lane to the left and cut across Sunset going north up Vine. It takes my passenger by surprise.
“What are you doing? Why’d you do that? You’re going the wrong way.”
“I’m going up to Hollywood Boulevard.”
“Hollywood’s not that way. Hollywood’s the other way.”
“No it’s not. It’s up here, trust me.”
“My daddy taught me to never trust anyone who said 'Trust me,' and you’re going the wrong way.”
“No I’m not. I promise. Hollywood is the next street after this light, just give it a minute. What’s your name?”
“Rusty. This is kind of making me nervous, you need to turn around. I don’t know where you’re taking me.”
The night is dim but I can see the stars on the sidewalk, the old brick facades that remind me of Raymond Chandler novels along with the new flat-and-modern chain-store structures. I’ve forgotten what was there 40 years ago, when I was a hick from the Missouri Ozarks and it all seemed so glamorous. The light is green but I pull to a stop anyway. “Look, over there, the street sign says Hollywood. And up there a little ways is the Capitol Records building.”
“All right, maybe that says Hollywood but that doesn’t mean I was wrong.”
“Absolutely. You weren’t wrong, you were just different.”
I make a left turn on Hollywood and she says, “That’s the wrong way, I’m going to La Brea.”
“I’m headed for La Brea. We’re going west.”
Rusty looks around. This is the beginning and the end of Hollywood Boulevard’s yesteryear sleaze, a couple of blocks before the tourist crap starts up. It still maintains a rustic charm. We drive by the Cave, a primary-colored strip joint that’s been there as long as I can remember. Rusty takes a deep breath and seems to melt back into her seat. “Oh yeah,” she says. “This is the right way. I know that place.”
We follow the tour-bus route under the dingy bright lights and Rusty begins to relax. “I worked some places like that in Arizona but that’s all done and gone forever. I danced at a place called B and B, for boobs and butts. You know that song, If you had a beautiful body would you hold it against me? That’s what I used to dance to. But those days are back somewhere else.”
She goes quiet and I have nothing to share so we watch Hollywood Boulevard go by. We pass all the landmarks and when we go by the Kodak Theater she tells me that’s where the Academy Awards take place and I tell her yeah, I know. She asks me if I’m a real photographer and I say yes then she asks me if I ever photograph movie stars and I say no. She tells me she has family everywhere except here and she used to like pictures of herself but not anymore. She says she used to be so hot she could give a hard-on to a passed-out drunk but now she’s got nothing nobody wants.
“Yeah, well,” I tell her. “You’ve got pretty eyes.”
Rusty turns me right at La Brea and then up a short block and another right on Yucca. She tells me this is it, the motel on the right and I should look for a place to park. At the next corner a Cadillac is idling in a space of road that blocks my forward motion. A working girl gets out of the car and closes the passenger door. She stands in my headlights like a superstar and the Caddy drives away. The working girl is hot like a rock video. She’s young and tall and scantily attired in sparkles and spandex. She looks at me and my passenger then smiles and winks at me and walks away swinging her ass like it’s waving goodbye. I look at Rusty but she doesn’t look at me. I park the car and we go inside
Previously - Nowhere All Night Long
Scot's new show, A New Low, runs through August 31 at dkrm Gallery in Los Angeles. His first book, Lowlife, was released last year and his memoir, Curb Service, is out now. You can find more information on his website.