This article originally appeared on VICE France
According to the Paris Police Department, the number of prostitutes working in the area of the Bois de Boulogne park has "increased significantly" in the past five years. In fact, a spokesperson for 'Collectif 16e arrondissement des prostituées du bois de Boulogne' (a group composed of independent prostitutes working in the Bois de Boulogne) recently announced that the number of sex workers in the area amounts to 180.
I've always been interested in informal architectures and people who manage to build something out of nothing. My work often examines the way in which marginalised populations cope with their often hostile environments. So far, I've had the opportunity to work in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro and follow the displaced populations in the Sichuan area after the construction of the Three Gorges dam in the Chinese town of Chongqing. It was in the same vein that, three years ago, I began to look into the working conditions of the prostitutes in the Bois de Boulogne for a project I called Places of Pleasure.
The Bois de Boulogne is a park with a reputation – every Parisian knows it as a place with a history of sex work. Every morning, throngs of women arrive in the Bois de Boulogne – some by bus, others driving their own cars. Their day begins with the installation of their workspace: Some unfold a tent in the forest or behind bushes, while others open their trunk, bend the seats, cover the windows and light some incense. Once they are set up, they move on to preparing themselves – they will carefully apply their make-up and change into a sexier outfit or just get undressed. The whole process takes on an almost ritualistic quality; it seems to allow those women some time to transcend the boundaries of their "daily" life and assume their role of the prostitute.
Around midday, an acquaintance delivers them meals and drinks. But the women rarely have lunch; their job apparently destroys their appetite. Many will often work on an empty stomach, though a bottle of alcohol can often be seen protruding from their bags. Around 5PM, they start packing up as that's when the night shift takes over.
In the time I spent there, I made sure to cover a specific area hoping that that would allow me to get better acquainted with the space and its inhabitants. I chose a part of the park that is separated by the road. In the space of three years, I met about 30 women – the majority of which worked independently. That simplified our encounters, because they were allowed complete freedom of speech in our conversations. A few were from Latin America and some were transgender.
I also met quite a few of their clients but establishing a profile would be difficult: they were all men, but of all backgrounds and ages – from young suburban kids to La Défense businessmen passing by the Bois de Boulogne in between meetings to relax, a baby seat visible in the back of their cars. For most of them, seeing a prostitute is a way of blowing off steam.
The prostitutes feel strongly that the work they do is social, and that their little world reflects every single bad governmental decision that's been taken in the years of the economic crisis. "Coming to the Bois de Boulogne used to be a way to party – these days it's a type of medicine," one of them told me.
Élodie Chrisment is a French photographer, member of the studio Hans Lucas..