2016 - 2018
La Puente is the biggest brothel in southern Ecuador, in the city of Machala, where more than 150 women are working. The photos were created in collaboration with the women, who chose their own poses and many painted their polaroids using nail polish to hide their identities; the nail polish developed later to a creative tool, beautifying and abstracting bodies, or the space itself.
Participatory photography is a foundational method to Charlotte Schmitz’ art as it minimizes any unbalanced structure that appears as a result of the photographic process, and allows to form a deeper and more complex understanding of the people involved.
La Puente gives a new perspective on a somewhat clichéd subject matter and creates a space for a nuanced and relatable depth to individuals by allowing them to create their own narratives and thus challenges stereotyping and common portrayals of sex workers. The majority of sex workers are women, but most art and photography projects on sex work are done by men. These projects often fail to accentuate how women want to be seen and they formed a common gaze which has contributed, over years, to the imbalance of how to perceive sex workers and women in general.
In addition to the polaroids of women and their video documentation, the work and book also contains bedsheets that were given to Charlotte upon leaving La Puente, which are the only personal items in their rooms. The bedsheets become an important testimony to be shared with the viewers.