The brothel-without-walls : twentieth century photography and the presentation of prostitution
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This dissertation examines the interconnected visualization of fantasy, obscenity, and eroticism in twentieth-century photographs of prostitution and the sex industry. Using definitions of eroticism coined by Roland Barthes, Judith Butler, Roger Scruton and Georges Bataille, and multiple interpretations of the obscene by various art historians including Lynda Nead, Kerstin Mey, and Matthew Kieran, I analyze how and why these themes emerge vis-à-vis three specific sexualized, fantasized figures: the underground, clandestine prostitute of the early 1900s; the empowered stripper/sex worker; the orientalized prostitute. Through analysis of five different photographic albums produced between 1912 and 1995, I demonstrate that photography operates as a strategy of regulation and reform, a means of constructing the prostitute as a permissible figure of representation by taming and shaping the connotations of eroticism, obscenity, and fantasy that shroud her. Through three chapters I show how eroticism and obscenity are visualized, how fantasy is fuelled by concealment, how notions of power/knowledge influence the display of eroticism and obscenity, and how differences (based upon gender, morality, sexuality, race, and culture) determine and regulate what one sees of prostitution in photography. My examination begins with the photographs of E.J. Bellocq and Brassaï, both of whom photograph an underground network of prostitution and capture prostitutes as figments of eroticized imagination. The second chapter continues to explore the construction of fantasy, but concentrates on the influence of gender and sexual difference as they reinforce and disempower the fantasy images of female prostitutes. These ideas are approached through the work of Susan Meiselas, who presents strippers and dominatrices as ‘real,’ powerful subjects. The final chapter considers the intersection of gender difference with colonial or cultural difference in photographs of prostitutes from India. Images by Mary Ellen Mark are offset by postcolonial theories of Orientalism and stereotype to reveal how and why prostitutes are orientalized – othered, made inferior, and typed – and how that oriental fantasy confirms the regulatory and illusive power of the image.
Thesis, MPhil Master of Philosophy
Embargo Date: Electronic copy restricted until 2nd April 2017. Images restricted indefinitey
Embargo Reason: Thesis restricted in accordance with University regulations
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