by Liz Ream
Three years ago, a bright-eyed eighteen year old by the name of Eden moved to San Francisco to escape an abusive home, travel the world and pursue her dream of becoming an exotic dancer. After getting involved in the strip club scene, Eden soon found herself working side-by-side with hustlers and manipulators, and it wasn’t long before she learned the ins and outs of prostitution.
This is where Eden met photographer Alicia Vera. Through her photos, Alicia tells Eden’s story.
Alicia was in San Francisco shooting a project documenting strippers, and after befriending Eden, was inspired to begin a new series on prostitution. However, Alicia said that it soon became more than that:
While I began this project to document the world of prostitution and to initiate a dialogue on issues that apply to everyday women such as self-identity and female chauvinism, I feel that this project is ultimately about a woman’s struggle to find herself.
Eden was frequently sent to the east coast by her madam to work out of hotel rooms. After being caught by an undercover task force for the third time, she found herself facing jail time.
Alicia followed Eden, documenting her work with the hope of shedding light on the fact that “sex work is just that — work. And despite whatever feelings one may have about the industry, the women involved need to be lawfully protected.”
Alicia accompanied Eden to her court date where the young escort— donned in a conservative blue dress— stood before a surprised judge, who was softened by her clean-cut appearance and pleasant demeanor. This worked in Eden’s favor, and in the end she accepted a fine of just 300 dollars despite her previous arrests.
Just a few hours later, Alicia found herself alongside Eden “in an undisclosed hotel room in Pennsylvania, candles lit, curtains shut.” Eden’s clothes came off, and she was back to work.
From there, Alicia photographed Eden with a customer, saying that this was the hardest part of the entire project:
“Everyone said no until Eden talked to one of her regulars. She spoke to him openly about the project and then called me in to the hotel room to meet him. I explained to him our goals, etc. and told him that after the shoot, he was free to go over the images and delete any of them that showed his face. He was immediately comforted and agreed.”
The project has generated surprisingly positive results, as Alicia has received numerous emails saying that she “brought up an important issue in a sensitive manner when typically, the subject of sex work generates strong polarizing opinions.”
Eden and Alicia stay in close touch, talking about once a week. Eden currently resides in San Francisco, was recently engaged and is looking for a place with her fiance. Alicia plans to visit her in the near future to photograph her daily life. Furthermore, she hopes to write a book in collaboration with Eden, saying “she writes beautifully and I’m excited for readers to get a first hand account into her life.”
As of recently, Eden has ceased being an escort. However, she still believes, as Alicia illustrates, that it is simply a job.
“Nobody IS what they DO, but whatever we do becomes a part of us. I am a woman, a daughter, a friend, an artist, and a provider of sex in exchange for money. Although I set aside pieces of myself to protect them, I do not disappear. The daughter, sister, friend, and artist that I am outside of work will always carry around the memories and lessons I’ve gained.” – Eden
View more of Alicia’s work at aliciavera.com