There are lots of ways to tackle a subject which resonates with our deepest sense of social shame such as prostitution. Do you focus on the women, the human beings forced to submit to this degrading profession for the gratification of others? Do you focus on the clients for whom the urge to indulge their lust rides roughshod over any sense of basic compassion? Do you focus on the pimps, the violent, manipulative masters of these women who connect supply and demand with such avaricious scruplessness?
All of these obviously have their merit, but I am struggling to remember a more affecting portrayal of this world than this arresting series by photographer David Emery. Called simply Brothel, David has documented the places where this profession plays out, the seedy buildings on the edges of towns and morality united only by their sexless sense of unbecoming ordinariness (although some of the settings are depressingly picturesque).
The haunting emptiness of his pictures paradoxically heightens their power – the odd parked car merely hints at the goings-on inside and cautions us against the temptation to dismiss these structures as just another roadside building. These may not be easy viewing but they’re certainly effective.