Inside the Life of a Professional Escort Photographer

A lot has changed in the decade since DannyGirl started shooting escort ads in Montreal.

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Apr 6 2016, 9:55pm

All photos by DannyGirl

Whether or not our government wants to admit the legitimacy of sex work as an industry, there are thousands of women in Canada who run escorting like any other business. In Montreal, one person who is an integral part of this industry is a woman who goes by DannyGirl. Over the past decade, she has taken photos for thousands of escorts in Montreal to be put up on agency websites and independent escorting sites in order to lure customers into spending an evening with the women on the screen.

Though DannyGirl dabbled in fashion photography briefly and has been shooting nude photos for nearly two decades, about ten years ago, she decided to focus her efforts on escorts. "Whenever I dump all my stuff out of my hard drives, it's like hundreds of thousands of photos of girls in their underwear—and most of them have their heads cut off, so I don't even know who they are."

VICE spoke to DannyGirl to ask her what it's like to do photoshoots with escorts multiple times a week for years and years, and to see how her perception has changed since she pulled back the proverbial Wizard of Oz velvet curtain on a complex, expansive industry.

VICE: How did you get into doing escort photography?
DannyGirl: I didn't even realize it was a thing at first. I went to an art school in Toronto, and I'd been shooting my friends wet and topless since I was 14. I also shot my friend at camp... we snuck out of the dining hall, and went to these big shower rooms, and I shot her on a disposable camera at Jewish summer camp. The funny thing is my camera got thrown in a bag to come home, and someone stole the bag, so I wonder if someone got arrested for having that roll of film.

I'd just always take pictures of my friends topless and hot. I failed out of photography in high school and didn't go to college for it. It wasn't until MySpace hit that the photos I took of my hot, tattooed friends, like, naked in my jacuzzi in Montreal, that strangers started hitting me up and asking me how much I charged for shoots. It became this natural evolution of shooting naked girls for money, and naked girls who want to pay to be shot all the time are escorts. For me it's always been this sustainable income of something I find really easy to do.

When exactly did your clientele stop being just your friends and became women who were working as escorts?
I think it probably started around 2006 when I got contacted by a small escort agency who wanted me to shoot a couple of girls. For me, I was doing it anyway, but I just wasn't involved in the sex industry culture yet to realize how big of an industry it was. I'm able to have an income full-time from doing this, and not a lot of photographers can say that. I feel very lucky to do exactly what I want to do, have it be fun, and have it be really laidback.

I was shooting sexy shots of regular girls, then the photos would come out online. I've had a presence on the internet for many years now, so it became very organic with how people found me. I was already taking photos of girls in their underwear oiled up, smoking, so it became a word of mouth thing. Some girls have been shooting with me for ten years. I haven't really had to advertise.

Do you consider Montreal to be a major city for escorting?
I find that sexuality generally here is so much more lax that it's not a big deal to be an escort here, so a lot of girls are. It's a big industry, but like anything in Montreal, all the prices are lower just because people who live here don't have the same amount of money as other cities. They could go to Calgary and charge twice as much.

What's some weird shit you've had happen to you on escort shoots?
God, every day... I don't ask a lot of questions beforehand, because I know what it is. I don't check who they are beforehand, so I don't know if they're a tall, blonde, porno-type girl or, like last week, these two very hippie, tea-drinking, vegan-y girls with super-short hair. [Those two women] were not traditional escorts, they do spiritual cleansing and naked yoga. That photoshoot was more about these very natural, beautiful body shots, and they wanted shots for when you hire two girls together with like clown noses, pillow fighting, and one girl has a wolf-tail buttplug. It's always hilarious and fun.

The only thing is boy-girl couples—I can't do it, I can't shoot that. I tried it once, and it got kind of fetishy. I felt like they hired me because they wanted to do it with their partner in front of somebody. As open as I am, there's something about male-female couples that weirds me out. When it's two girls, no matter how silly or crazy, it's never bothered me. A woman's body and how it shoots is just beautiful.



How do you feel about the current state of prostitution laws in Canada considering you interact with women who do this as a profession as part of your job?
I know a lot of the girls had to change their websites and how they were advertising themselves due to some new regulations in recent years. It started to become more john-based. What upsets me, and what I completely agree with all the girls on, is that it pushes it more underground. It's never not going to happen. It's much smarter to make it safer, tax it, because a lot of these women are businesswomen, this is their full-time job; they schedule it like a business, they run websites, answer phone calls and emails.

What happened with the laws and the government is that they wanted to throw a bunch of things into one box, like human trafficking, street-walking girls—which clearly the industry is much broader than that. There's this whole other group of girls in their 20s and 30s who made a conscious decision to do this, don't hate their life, don't hate their job, and don't want to be treated like criminals.

Does you being a woman play in at all to how you shoot escorts?
It helps that I'm a girl. There's a lot of creepy photographers out there, dudes who want to shoot you in your underwear at their house. So yeah, even though these girls are cool with going to see guys and taking off their clothes, they're still cautious, and I think partially I make them feel really comfortable because I'm a girl and they know I'm not going to be creepy and we can have an open dialogue. And, two, because I'm a girl, I'm going to see all the little things they don't about their bodies, and I'm going to fix them: a little puff of armpit fat, a little thigh thing when they pull up their stockings, some cellulite—stuff that maybe a man wouldn't notice. The girls are confident that I'm going to go through their body point by point and fix all the things I would be weird about.

How do you make your photos alluring enough to where it will get an escort new customers, but not to the point where a guy can just jerk off to the image without having to pay anything?
It's a fine art on both sides. These guys will try to email or text these girls to see what they can get for free—"tell me what you're going to do to me" kind of thing. It's all about tempting without giving too much. On a lot of the advertising sites you can't show vagina, and a lot of them you can't show nipples. If you're doing nude shots, things can be covered. It's pretty easy to not give it all away, because unless you're putting it on your own website, you just can't advertise with those kind of photos.

What was it like explaining to your family or to your kid what you do for a living?
I'm super-lucky and blessed. I'm an only child from a single-parent home; my mom is rad. I grew up with my super-strong, Wonder Woman mother and my Nana—just crazy strong women who wanted me to do whatever I wanted and were very business-minded. I don't think they were ever worried that I was going to be an escort. Whatever that line was, I think they always knew I would be on the right side of it. Both of my parents know what I do.

My son, since he was two years old, has grown up in a house seeing every girl in their underwear, walking around the house topless. My house is full of vintage porn and photos; my whole house is just tits and ass. Ask me again when he's 13, but for now, it's all just very normal. I think when everything is normalized, it becomes not a big deal. My kid is well-adjusted, I feel like I'm well-adjusted. That's the thing I've had to defend a little bit—not only am I a woman, but I'm also a mother. I'm super pro-women: I don't want some pimp-hand-beaten girls... There's a big thing here in Montreal now in Laval where young girls are being taken and pimped by guys.

Have you ever had to work with women who you were concerned about the situations they were in at all?
No, but kind of in an elitist way. For someone to afford me, they have to be working at a certain level. It tends to be a certain group of girls because they're the ones who can afford a photoshoot. There's a difference between how, back in the day, girls would advertise in the back of NOW Magazine to now girls who have their own websites. There's different echelons of price points. Right now, what I'm making an hour is what [the escorts I'm shooting] are making an hour. I work mostly with women in higher price brackets.

How has your perception changed over the course of your time shooting escorts?
The thing about working in the adult industry for so many years, is you become really desensitized to everything that has to do with sex and naked people. It becomes very human and normal. I often say, if you enjoy porn, strippers, and all the fantasy and lacy dreaminess that comes with all that, never work in the industry. It's like seeing behind the velvet curtain in The Wizard of Oz. You can never go back to that naivety and sense of sexy-time awe. You realize the normality of how it's all run, that it's just a business, and everything you've concocted in your head is all smoke and mirrors: Photoshop and great lighting. It has become so normal for me to say, "Tuck your labia back in, babe" or reach over and pull a G-string back over a bending girl's asshole. It's very difficult to go back to seeing these glossy images as some ultimate fantasy.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Follow DannyGirl on Instagram.

Follow Allison Elkin on Twitter.

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