An exhibition of new photographs by Jane Hilton, at Eleven, uncovers the hidden world of life inside Western (USA) brothels. Hilton first encountered Madam Kitty’s Cathouse in 1998. In 2000 she was commissioned by the BBC to make ten documentary films in this brothel and the Moonlite Bunnyranch, both situated in Nevada, USA. In 2010 Jane decided to return with her plate camera for her latest exhibition and accompanying book, ‘Precious,’ a collection of intimate nude portraits of working girls.
Although prostitution is one of the oldest professions to have been made legal in Nevada, it is still not socially acceptable. This new work gives the viewer an opportunity to leave behind any preconceptions. The women are from different cultural backgrounds, ages and body shapes which also challenge the traditional idea of beauty. By choosing to photograph the girls with a plate camera that took hours of patience, it became a bonding experience. As issues about their own body shape became apparent, so did their feelings about their journey as a working girl. In some cases this became a very positive and cathartic experience.
Hilton went to a total of eleven different brothels to find women who were prepared to take part in this project. From big brothels like the Moonlite Bunnyranch – which she already had a strong relationship with – to the tiniest of brothels like Shady Lady’s and Angel’s Ladies who could only offer one or two women at any one time. Jane herself felt privileged to be allowed to stay in many of the brothels, which contributed to the trust these girls have gave her. Each photograph is an intimate and personal portrait. Among them are Chelsea, a former drug and sex addict who planned on a career in forensic science; Cassie, a bright and sunny optimist whose burning ambition is to be a businesswoman and philanthropist — a young woman who has overcome the bleakest of pasts after witnessing her mother’s murder by a brutal stepfather; Nikki, who three months into her pregnancy decided to become a prostitute to save money for single motherhood; Sonia, a married 52 year old writer who lives at a brothel with her husband, moved in so that she could write about the experience.
“Precious” is defined as something of “unique value” or someone “dear or beloved”. What people consider precious is entirely subjective, as is beauty. Capturing their narrative, dignity and strength of character Jane titled the series ‘Precious’, “because to me, they all are.’ Jane Hilton, photographer and filmmaker lives in London. Her recent solo exhibitions include ‘Dead Eagle Trail,’ Nailya Alexander Gallery, New York, LUX Gallery, Amsterdam, and Crane Kalman Gallery, Brighton (2011). Her work was featured in ‘Knock Knock,’ Jerwood Gallery, Hastings (2013), ‘Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize,’ The National Portrait Gallery, London and The Art Gallery, Walsall (2010). Her documentary photography has been featured in major printed publications including The Telegraph, The Sunday Times and The Observer.