La Puente

Charlotte Schmitz

2016 - 2018

Machala, El Oro, Ecuador

La Puente is the biggest brothel in southern Ecuador, in the city of Machala, where 170 women are working. The word el puente means bridge in Spanish, a masculine noun, adapted to the trade and feminized as La Puente.

The photos were created in collaboration with the women, who chose their own poses and later painted with nail polish on their polaroids. The nail polish was initially used to provide anonymity, but quickly developed into a creative instrument. Working with polaroids and nail polish gave the women the possibility to personalize their own photos and guide the creative process. This hands-on experience in the creation breaks down the power structure in the artistic production. Not only the choice of their poses but also the use of nail polish tell about the women’s inner and outer perceptions.

The photographers’s aim with this work is to allow the formation of a deeper and more complex understanding of the women working in La Puente, who create and define their own narratives, and to challenge how sex workers are being portrayed and seen.

Sex workers are stigmatized in every society. Yet, moral and legal debates that encompass and objectify them are often being discussed without taking their opinions into account. The vast majority of sex workers in the world are women but most photography projects on sex workers are done by men. As these projects usually failed in accentuating how the women would like to be seen, 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, the work also contains patterns from bedsheets that were given to the photographer upon leaving La Puente. They are the only personal items in the rooms of the brothel and become an important testimony shared with the viewers. A text also accompanies the book*, written by the artist about the women, their work and lives, and also about her time in Machala, when she was 18 years old, and today as a contemporary woman.

*being published in Fall 2019 with FotoEvidence as the first recipient of the W-Award.

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