Artist's Statement: Sex Workers On Stage in Julia Fullerton-Batten's "Act 2016"

By David Schonauer   Wednesday June 29, 2016

For her new project “Act 2016,” photographer Julia Fullerton-Batten  examines the lives of female sex workers.

In her artist’s statement for the project, featured below, Fullerton-Batten describes her subjects as “women who choose to earn their living by exploiting their bodies as escorts, dominatrices, porn actresses, web cam and  live sex and peep show  performers, striptease, lap dancing artistes, or sexual surrogates as therapy for clients, and transgender people.” The series includes interviews and a behind-the-scenes video showing how  Fullerton-Batten portrayed women who, she notes,“live their entire working lives as if on a stage.”

“They have chosen a way of life that many would consider extreme, or at the very least, brave,” notes the photographer. The same could be said for Fullerton-Batten herself, the subject of an Ai-AP Profile  in 2015. While her earlier projects often dealt with her own past, her more recent work has dealt with social issues, including body image and blindness. In “Act 2016,” she mixes documentary tradition with her own instincts as an artist.


By Julia Fullerton-Batten

In this project I examine the lives of female sex-workers, women who choose to earn their living by exploiting their bodies as escorts, dominatrices, porn actresses,  web cam and  live sex and peep show  performers,  striptease,  lap dancing artistes, or sexual surrogates as therapy for clients, and transgender people. My models have a wide variety of cultural backgrounds and are of different ethnicities.

A second and equally important feature of the project was to obtain and present the “stories” of each of my models with an insight into their reasons for choosing to be what they are, and how they view their life in the sex industry. I interviewed 15 women for the project. Their “stories” accompany the images in text form and can also be seen in video form, as also as a ‘behind-the-scenes’ video.

During my meetings with my models, both before and during the shoot, I sensed that they tend to live their entire working lives as if on a stage. They are women who are proud of their bodies and choose to use their bodies in order to make an income. Many have had physical enhancements so that, in their eyes, they are more physically attractive to their client. They live in the present and think little of their long-term future. Most are single, but some have relationships. Some are brazen, others palpably very vulnerable. It is these nuances of conviction and inner conflict that I hope I have captured in my images.

I created the backdrop for the images in the form of mini-theatrical sets. Each setting is relevant to the individual woman and her profession. The mini-sets were mounted on a stage as if they were giving a performance, which indeed they were. My choice of cinematic lighting imparts an enigmatic interpretation of their acts. It is a split second of a filmic recreation of their life. As far as possible, I have avoided sexually explicit scenes – undeniably the images are sexy and provocative, but also playful.

The role of the sex industry in today’s society is heavily debated. Many feminists believe that sex work should be abolished, others on the other hand claim it as a contribution to a woman’s freedom of choice as to the work she engages in. Large-scale changes to prostitution and sex-work laws have enable many women to work in ways that were previously not possible. Although it’s not a choice of career that I would ever make, in some strange way, I came to admire these 15 women. They are honest to themselves and exhibit a high degree of self-respect, certainly well above the norm. I’ll let their “stories” tell the last word behind this extraordinary experience.

'The Act', 2016 from Julia Fullerton-Batten on Vimeo.


  1. Matt McKee commented on: June 29, 2016 at 10:16 p.m.
    That is a great series, sensitively told, with stunning images. The video was very important to the impact of the concept. Kudos all around!

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