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They Live by Night: Photos of gangsters, prostitutes & drag queens from Tokyo’s red light district

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Kabukichō is the red light district in Shinjuku, a commercial and administrative ward in central Tokyo. Apparently Kabukichō took its name from plans to build a kabuki theater in the district sometime in 1940s. This never happened. Instead the area became a busy red light world of nightclubs, hostess clubs and love hotels. It’s estimated there are some 3,000 such enterprises operating in Kabukichō today. At night, the busy neon-lit streets thrive with the curious and the criminal—around a thousand yakuza are said to operate in the area. All this relentless activity gave Kabukichō its nickname as the “Sleepless Town” (眠らない街).

Among the curious drawn to Kabukichō was photographer Watanabe Katsumi (1941-2006). During the 1960s and 1970s, this seemingly quiet and unassuming character prowled the streets camera in hand offering to take pictures of the sharp-suited yakuza, the pimps, the prostitutes and the drag queens who lived and worked in and among this red light district’s narrow streets. Watanabe thought of Kabukichō as his theater and the men and women who posed for him as his actors.

He approached each of his subjects and offered to take their picture.  He took the pictures quickly. But whatever he said to make each individual sufficiently relaxed worked. His photographs captured something unguarded and utterly spontaneous about his subjects. The next night he would return, deliver three prints of each photograph for 200 yen—roughly around a dollar back then. This was how he made his living.

In 1973, the first volume of Watanabe Katsumi’s photographs The Gangs of Kabukichō was published. This book was reissued in 2006, details here.
 
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More after the jump…

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Posted by Paul Gallagher
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02.23.2017
11:04 am
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‘A List of the Gay Houses and Ladies of Pleasure’: Vintage brothel guide to Philadelphia from 1849
09.26.2016
10:54 am
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A Guide to the Stranger or Pocket Companion for the Fancy was a “correct list and description of the greater portion of the Houses of Ill-Fame in Philadelphia” published in 1849. The book reviewed both the brothels and bed houses—those rooms rented by the hour. It listed the names and addresses of the landlady or madams and the quality of services on offer.

In his introduction, the anonymous author assured his readers:

With this book in his hand a man will be enabled to shun those low dens of infamy and disease with which this city abounds, as a true and authentic description of each house is here briefly given.

Among the best madams and working girls were:

Miss Josephine Somers of 4 Wood Street, near Eleventh Street, who was described as “an accomplished lady” and her brothel a “Temple of Venus.”

You can spend an evening here with great pleasure; the young ladies are all beautiful, accomplished and bewitching—they are Elizabeth Moore, Louisa Garrett, &c. Go one, go all, and you will be pleased.

Miss Sarah Turner of 2 Wood Street, above Eleventh, who is a “perfect Queen” her house situated “in one of the most respectable parts of the city.”

At this house you will hear no disgusting language to annoy your ear; everything connected with this establishment is calculated to make a man happy. The young ladies are beautiful and accomplished; they will at any time amuse you with a fine tune on the piano, or use their melodious voices to drive dull care away. Stranger, do not neglect to pay a visit to this house before you leave our quiet city of sisterly affection.

Miss Mary Blessington of 3 Wood Street, a “young and beautiful creature” who “is as snug a lump of flesh and blood as ever man pressed upon his bosom. Her bed and house and first class.

Miss Emma Jacobs of Bryan’s Court, Cherry Street:

This lady is the Queen of Trumps, tall and majestic, and noble in appearance. She is a lady in manners and conversation. She lives well and her house is comfortable and safe. One glance will satisfy a person of that fact.

The author also gave the following caveat:

To every man the author of this statistical warning says, avoid each and every place that is marked with a woeful X, as a single visit might be the cause of utter ruin and disgrace.

Examples of such places include:

X—Madam Vincent of Lombard Street, who runs “a low house”.

...be cautious when you visit this place, or you may rue it all your lifetime.

X—Mrs Hamilton of 152 Locust Street who has “grown bald and toothless in the service.”

Beware this house, stranger, as you would the sting of a viper.

X—Sarah Ross, Passyunk Road:

This is one of the worst conducted houses in the city. The girls, though few in number, are ugly, vulgar and drunken. We would not advise any body of common sense to stay there.

The guide’s author(s) estimates there are some 10,000 prostitutes working in Philadelphia. This figure was based on an estimate of the number of working girls in New York. These women serviced the numerous businessmen, travelers and rural workers who came to the city for business and pleasure. How our author(s) managed to find out so much about these brothels and bed houses suggests some firsthand experience. The whole A Guide to the Stranger or Pocket Companion for the Fancy can be read below.
 
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More from the guide to ‘Gay Houses” and ‘Ladies of Pleasure,’ after the jump….
 

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Posted by Paul Gallagher
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09.26.2016
10:54 am
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Prostitutes, mannequins and street traders: The flâneur who photographed Paris, 1890s-1920s

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Prostitute, rue Asselin.
 
Eugène Atget first tried his hand as sailor, actor and painter before discovering his true vocation as a documentary photographer on the streets of Paris.

Documenting city life combined Atget’s passion for photography with his life as a flâneur. A flâneur is someone who strolls aimlessly through a city with no particular place to go—the route steered only by curiosity and chance. A flâneur dwells between the twin poles of private reverie and public space.

Novelist Charles Baudelaire first described a flâneur in an essay titled “The Painter of Modern Life” in 1863:

For the perfect flâneur, for the passionate spectator, it is an immense joy to set up house in the heart of the multitude, amid the ebb and flow of movement, in the midst of the fugitive and the infinite. To be away from home and yet to feel oneself everywhere at home; to see the world, to be at the centre of the world, and yet to remain hidden from the world…

Paris has long been hailed as the city of the flâneur. Its streets and boulevards invite perambulation and drift. Its arrondissements are filled with hidden beauty that trigger involuntary memory. Marcel Proust—the writer who coined the term “involuntary memory”—lived and worked in Paris. Like one of Proust’s characters, a flâneur wanders a city’s streets open to their “madeleine moment.”

Atget (1857-1927) wandered through Paris dressed in a large dark cloak, his camera and tripod in hand. He strolled, sauntered, until something triggered a response which he stopped to photograph. A chance encounter with a prostitute idling by her front door; a hawker selling wares from a cart; a maitre d‘s face at the door of a restaurant; a shop window filled with mannequins; or the empty cobbled street still fresh with the impression of activity.

Atget’s street photography captured a Paris that was fast changing. Its once golden age of the flâneur was being opened up to the motorcar and a system of signage, roads and roundabouts.

Atget lived in direst poverty throughout his life. For twenty years, it’s said, he lived on a diet of milk, bread and sugar. All other foods, he declared, were a poison. According to the American photographer Berenice Abbott who literally discovered Atget and his voluminous collection of photographs—or documents pour artistes:

In art and hygiene he was absolute. He had very personal ideas on everything which he imposed with extraordinary violence.

He applied this intransigence of taste, of vision, of methods, to the art of photography and miracles resulted.

 
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Prostitute waiting at her front door, 1921.
 
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Soldier with prostitute.
 
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Three prostitutes, rue Asselin.
 
More of Atget’s Paris street life photography, after the jump…

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Posted by Paul Gallagher
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09.09.2016
12:49 pm
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Meet the wild child ‘Tiger Woman’ who tried to kill Aleister Crowley

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The other morning here at Dangerous Minds Towers (Scotland), while I sat sifting through the mailbag looking for presents and antique snuff boxes, m’colleague Tara McGinley popped a fascinating article in front of me about a wild “Tiger Woman.”

At first I thought this tabloid tale was perhaps about the woman who had inspired Roy Wood to write his rather wonderful and grimy little number “Wild Tiger Woman” for The Move. As I read on, I realized this story of a rebellious singer, dancer and artist’s model was unlikely to have been the woman Wood had in mind when he wrote his famous song.

No, this particular “Tiger Woman” was one Betty May Golding—a drug addict, a boozer, and a dabbler in the occult. She had a string of lovers, worked as a prostitute, had been a member of a notorious criminal gang, an alleged Satanist, and had once even tried to murder Aleister Crowley. This was the kind of impressive resumé one would expect from the original “wild child.” Not that Ms. Golding would have given two hoots for any of that:

I have not cared what the world thought of me and as a result what it thought has often not been very kind… I have often lived only for pleasure and excitement.

You go girl!

Betty May was born Elizabeth Marlow Golding into a world of poverty and deprivation in Canning Town, London in 1895. The neighborhood was situated at the heart of the city’s docks—an area described by Charles Dickens as:

...already debased below the point of enmity to filth; poorer labourers live there, because they cannot afford to go farther, and there become debased.

To get an idea how deprived and “debased” this district was—Canning Town even today “remains among the 5% [of the] most deprived areas in the UK.”  Plus ca change…
 
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A typical London slum 1909.
 
When Betty was just an infant, her father left the family home, leaving her mother to support four children on a pittance of 10/- a week—roughly the equivalent of $1.50. The family home was a hovel with no furniture and no beds. The family slept on bundles of rags, cuddling together to keep warm.

Her mother was half-French with beautiful olive complexion and almond eyes. The struggle proved too much for her and Betty was sent off to live with her father who was then residing in a brothel. Her father was an engineer by trade but he preferred to spend his time drinking, fighting and thieving. He was eventually arrested and sent to jail.

In her autobiography Tiger Woman, published in 1929, Betty described herself as a “little brown-faced marmoset ... and the only quick thing in this very slow world.” She earned pennies by dancing and singing on the street.  After her father’s arrest, she was passed from relative to relative eventually staying with an aunt who described her as “a regular little savage.”

One of her earliest memories was finding the body of a pregnant neighbor hanging from a hook. The woman had caught her husband having sex with her sister.

Her face was purple and her eyes bulged like a fish’s. It was rather awful.

Eventually Betty was sent to another aunt who stayed out in the country in Somerset. Here she attended school but soon the teenager was in trouble after having an affair with one of her teachers.

I can hardly say, in the light of what I have learnt since, that we were in love. At least perhaps he was. Certainly I was fond of him.

When their illicit relationship was discovered, Betty was given an ultimatum.

There was a great deal of fuss and it was made clear to me that unless the ­friendship came to an end it would be the schoolmaster who would be made to suffer.

After a rather tearful scene with my aunt I was packed off with a few pounds.

 
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Betty in her gypsy dress.
 
Arriving in London in 1910 Betty could only afford one outfit:

...but every item of it was a different colour. Neither red nor green nor blue nor yellow nor purple was forgotten, for I loved them all equally, and if I was not rich enough to wear them separately ... I would wear them, like Joseph in the Bible, all at once! Colours to me are like children to a loving mother.

With her exotic looks and green eyes, Betty looked every part the gypsy and was later known for her song “The Raggle Taggle Gypsy.” The novelist Anthony Powell described her as looking like a seaside fortune teller. Betty also delighted in her costermonger background:

I am a true coster in my flamboyance and my love of colour, in my violence of feeling and its immediate response in speech and action. Even now I am often caught with a sudden longing regret for the streets of Limehouse as I knew them, for the girls with their gaudy shawls and heads of ostrich feathers, like clouds in a wind, and the men in their caps, silk neckerchiefs and bright yellow pointed boots in which they took such pride. I adored the swagger and the showiness of it all.

 
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The Café Royal in 1912 as painted by artist William Orpen.
 
At first, Betty worked as a prostitute before becoming a model, dancer and entertainer at the hip Café Royal.

The lights, the mirrors, the red plush seats, the eccentrically dressed people, the coffee served in glasses, the pale cloudy absinthe ... I felt as if I had strayed by accident into some miraculous Arabian palace… No duck ever took to water, no man to drink, as I to the Café Royal.

The venue was the haunt of Bohemians and artists—Augustus John, Jacob Epstein, the “Queen of Bohemia” Nina Hamnett, heiress Nancy Cunard, William Orpen, Anna Wickham, Iris Tree and Ezra Pound.

Betty’s flamboyance and gypsy attire attracted their interest and she had affairs with many of the regulars. She modelled for Augustus John and Jacob Epstein. Being an artist’s model was a grey area that often crossed into prostitution. Many of May’s contemporaries in “modelling” died in tragic circumstances—either by their own hand or at the hands of a jealous lover.
 
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The artist Augustus John looking rather pleased with himself.
 
Betty’s life then took the first a many surprising turns when she became involved with a notorious criminal gang.

In 1914, she met a man she nicknamed “Cherub” at a bar who took her to France. Their relationship was platonic but after a night of drinking absinthe Cherub attacked her:

He clasped me round the waist, pinning my arms… I struggled with all the strength fear and hate could give me.

With a supreme effort I succeeded in half-freeing my right arm so that I was enabled to dig my scissors into the fleshy part of his neck.

Betty escaped to Paris where she met up with a man known as the “White Panther” who introduced her into the one of the ciy’s L’Apache gangs. She later claimed it was this gang who nicknamed her “Tiger Woman” after she became involved in a fight with one of the gangster’s girlfriends. When separated by the gang leader she bit into his wrist like a wild animal.

Now part of gang, Betty became involved in various robberies and acts of violence—in one occasion branding a possible informer with a red hot knife. This experience led her to quit Paris.
 
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Apache gang members or hooligans fighting the police in 1904.
 
To be honest, Betty’s autobiography reads at times like a thrilling pulp novel and without corroborative evidence seems more like fiction than fact.

Returning to London, Betty resumed work as a singer and dancer. She sought a husband and found two suitors: the first died after a mysterious boating accident; the second blew his brains out one fine summer’s day. Betty eventually married a trainee doctor Miles L. Atkinson, who introduced her to the joys of cocaine.

I learnt one thing on my ­honeymoon—to take drugs.

Atkinson had an unlimited supply of cocaine via his work with the hospital. The couple embarked on a mad drug frenzy. They fell in with a den of opium smokers. May’s drug intake escalated to 150 grains of cocaine a day plus several pipes of opium. She became paranoid—on one occasion believing the world was against her after ordering a coffee at a cafe and the waiter served it black. She decided to divorce Atkinson, but he was killed in action in 1917 while serving as a soldier in the First World War.

Betty then met and married an Australian called “Roy”—not believed to be his real name—who weaned her off drugs by threatening to beat her if ever he caught her taking any. However, she divorced Roy after catching him having an affair.

Continuing with her career as an artist’s model, Betty sat for Jacob Epstein and Jacob Kramer, who she claimed painted her as the Sphinx.
 
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Jacob Kramer’s painting ‘The Sphinx’ (1918).
 
Her notoriety grew after the publication of a book Dope Darling by David “Bunny” Garnett, which was based on Betty’s life as a coke addict. The book told the story of a man called Roy who falls in love with a dancer Claire at a bohemian cafe. Claire is a drug addict and prostitute. Roy believes he can save Claire by marrying her. Once married, Roy gradually becomes a drug addict too.

In the book, Garnett described Claire as being :

...always asked to all the parties given in the flashy Bohemian world in which she moved. No dance, gambling party, or secret doping orgy was complete without her. Under the effect of cocaine which she took more and more recklessly, she became inspired by a wild frenzy, and danced like a Bacchante, drank off a bottle of champagne, and played a thousand wild antics

But all of this was by way of a warm-up to her meeting the Great Beast.
 
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‘Dope Darling’ by David Garnett.
 
In 1922, Betty met and married the poet Frederick Charles Loveday (aka Raoul Loveday). This dear boy (aged about twenty or twenty-one) was an acolyte of Aleister Crowley. With a first class degree from Oxford University and a book of published poems to his name, Loveday was utterly dedicated to Crowley and to his study of the occult.

Crowley first met Loveday at a dive in London called the Harlequin. He liked Loveday—saw his potential and claimed he was his heir apparent—but he said this about many other young man that took his fancy. He was however reticent in his praise for May—describing her as a “charming child, tender and simple of soul” but impaired by an alleged childhood accident he believed had “damaged her brain permanently so that its functions were discontinuous.” This condition was exacerbated by her drug addiction—though he was complimentary in her strength of will in curing herself.

Crowley believed he could save Loveday from the “vagabonds, squalid and obscene, who constituted the court of Queen Betty.”

In his Confessions, Crowley recounted a typical scene of Betty “at work” in the Harlequin:

In a corner was his wife, three parts drunk, on the knees of a dirty-faced loafer, pawed by a swarm of lewd hogs, breathless with lust. She gave herself greedily to their gross and bestial fingerings and was singing in an exquisite voice ... an interminable smutty song, with a ribald chorus in which they all joined.

 
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Aleister Crowley
 
Crowley moved to Sicily where he established his Abbey of Thelema at Cefalu. He wanted Loveday—and to a lesser extent May—to join him there. However, Loveday had been ill after an operation and several friends including Nina Hamnett warned him off going. But Loveday was determined and the couple traveled to the Abbey.

Arriving there in the fall of 1922, Betty and Loveday were soon party to various sex magic rituals under Crowley’s direction. On one occasion, Betty chanced upon a box filled with blood soaked neckties. When she asked Crowley what these were, he replied that they had belonged to Jack the Ripper and were stained with the blood of his victims.

Crowley may have tut-tutted about Betty’s sexual hi-jinks with other men in the club, but he didn’t seem to mind all the fucking and sucking that went on at the Abbey. Betty was unsure about Crowley. She was intrigued by the occult and her superstition kept her belief from wavering. But she never fully trusted him.

Everything came to a head after a black mass where Crowley commanded Loveday to kill a cat and drink its blood. Crowley claimed the cat was possessed by an evil spirit. Loveday beheaded the cat and greedily drank its blood. Within hours he fell ill and died, on February 16th, 1923.

Betty blamed Crowley for her husband’s death and swore revenge—deciding to kill him.
 
More on Betty May and her life of sex and drugs and the occult, after the jump…

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Posted by Paul Gallagher
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03.04.2016
12:52 pm
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Smoking pot leads straight to the whorehouse in ‘Seduction of the Innocent,’ 1960


 
I have in my possession a list of anti-drug instructional films prepared by the New Jersey Urban Schools Development Council in 1970. Along with such classics of the genre as Sonny Bono’s Marijuana, Paul Newman’s Bennies and Goofballs and the U.S. Navy’s LSD (in which Lt. Cmdr. Walt Miner asks: “Are you thinking something, or is the bulkhead thinking something?”), there are hidden gems like Scent of Danger, the Hobby Industry Association’s 1962 film about the perils of sniffing glue. The titles are just beautiful, and the copy of the plot summaries is better than a pulp novel, full of “fallen” women and “boys with weak personalities.” Even in this company, though, the lurid title and description of 1960’s Seduction of the Innocent jump off the page:

As the denouement approaches, [the protagonist] has lost her looks and can no longer command a call-girl’s fees. She takes to streetwalking. She is arrested and begins to experience withdrawal. The future holds little hope. Drug abuse, the narrator promises, “will lead to a life of hopelessness and degradation, until she escapes in death.”

 

Jeanette writhes in agony on the floor of her jail cell
 
In case any of our readers are considering smoking a marijuana cigarette, I have transcribed the film’s description of the narcotic’s effects below. However, reading the transcription is no substitute for watching the scene, which uses the zoom lens to illustrate the nightmarish loss of depth perception dope fiends regularly experience.

The smell and the taste are anything but pleasing. It makes you cough, and your throat becomes dry and hot. You feel like you’re floating. You concentrate on one object, a tree in the distance—it’s called “fixing.” As you concentrate, time slows down. You hallucinate, that is, you dream. This is called “tripping.” Your depth perception is affected. If you had to step off a curb or get out of a car, you would probably need help, because the distance might be exaggerated. On the other hand, distance might seem to diminish.

As with alcohol, the problems don’t disappear. They only temporarily seem to vanish, and return with jarring force when the effects of the drugs wear off. But when you get on narcotics, it’s like starting a never-ending downward tailspin from 30,000 feet. You become less sure of yourself, your surroundings, your friends. Quarrels are more frequent with your parents and loved ones. You try to convince yourself you’re right, but deep inside you know you’re not. You lose your sense of values. You think of little else but another “blow-up”—your newfound language for smoking marijuana.

Watch ‘Seduction of the Innocent’ after the jump…

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Posted by Oliver Hall
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01.22.2016
10:02 am
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Vintage Paris ‘pleasure guides’ for horny tourists
08.20.2015
10:20 am
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Despite suffering so many casualties in WWI that its military-eligible population was still decimated when WWII came around, France’s economy bounced back fairly quickly in the wake of Europe’s devastation in the “War to End All Wars.” That 1920s recovery was partly based on two enduringly popular items which were made abundantly available in Paris: alcohol and women’s bodies. Americans, flush with cash in a stock bubble and weary of the prudery that led to alcohol prohibition, visited Paris for cocktails and cockteases. Paris’ sexualized entertainments ran the gamut from mere topless revues to outright sex for sale, and the publishing industry capitalized with “Pleasure Guides” for horny tourists.

Now, some of these were pretty much ordinary tourist guides tarted up with sexy cover art. This English-language guide below, via Archive.org, is a browser widget that lets you actually flip through the book. (The entry on page 79 for the notoriously gory Grand-Guignol is priceless, as it’s demure to the point of deceptiveness.) It picks up a bit of steam on page 121, a chapter titled “The Worst Parts of Paris.”
 

 

 

In front of the Métro Combat, a little to the right, after nº 120, stretches up towards the Buttes-Chaumont the small rue Moniol, which the rue Asselin cuts across, cutting out from the centre of said cross a block of dingy houses called the «Monjol fort», a citadel of love in which a dozen groundfloor rooms each hide in the mouldering walls three or four women, all fallen to the last degree of the vilest prostitution.

Bepainted, scarcely clad in a mere unfastened dressing-gown of oriental colours, they await, watch and call the stevedores and the «sides» who swarm at that hour in the bars around, and who prowl about and succeed one another at their half-closed doors, bespattered with a wan light from within.

You’re just crazy-horny now, aren’t you? Say what you will, that second ‘graf is poetry.

But of course, while the tamer guides were legit tourist resources with a few references to the sex trade—disguised as warnings to provide cover to both the reader and the publisher—other books were just straight-up lists of bordellos. UC Berkeley professor Mel Gordon, in his forthcoming Feral House book Horizontal Collaboration: The Erotic World of Paris, 1920-1946, writes

Paris, universally referred to as Paname by the locals because of de rigueur hats worn by male fashion plates, was back in business. By 1923, over 250,000 American tourists had made their way across the Atlantic to explore the French capital. Fleeing their country’s draconian Prohibition laws and flush with wads of hard currency, the worldly trekkers weren’t just there to inspect the landmarks and museums or ferret out its fine dining establishments. They were drawn to la Ville-Lumière for a more unconventional list of enticements, many of which were primly catalogued in the city’s official directories or featured in the voyagers’ naughty guidebooks.

The classifications of the brothels in many ways resembled those of hotels or restaurants. In general, they were broken into three categories: mammoth luxury establishments, where customers might spend the better part of an evening (masons de tolérance); intimate, more personal-sized dwellings (maisons de ren- dez-vous); and dirt-cheap lairs that mimicked the speed and efficiency of a factory assembly line (maisons d’abattage).

Annual directories and business cards advertised and updated the latest additions to the maisons closes. Smaller houses relocated with some regularity and, occasionally, the names of competing brothels — based on street addresses or landladies’ nicknames — were confusingly duplicated. So there were multiple Château d’Eaus, Chez Billys, Chez Suzys, Le Hanovres, Le Panier Fleuris, and Temples of Beauty. Guidebooks, like the ubiquitous Guide Rose or Guide-Indicateur des Maisons de Plaisirs et d’Art de Paris, were essential aids.

 

 
More après le jump…

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Posted by Ron Kretsch
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08.20.2015
10:20 am
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‘Hustlers’: Magnetic portrait series of NYC and LA male prostitutes
08.19.2015
09:18 am
Topics:
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Eve Fowler‘s captivating series, Hustlers, is not your average coffee table book of photography. Between 1993 and 1998, Fowler photographed young gay men selling sex in the West Village and on Santa Monica Boulevard, to startlingly familiar effect. The project coincided with Fowler’s own coming out; her subjects are—in a way—an extension of her own identity.

The men themselves remain anonymous, and the viewer is left to wonder about their lives and personal stories. Street hustling has never been the safest way to make a living, and deaths from AIDS only stopped climbing after 1995—it could be tempting for a less humane photographer to portray her subjects as little more than gritty icongraphy, but Fowler doesn’t seem to direct these men at all. Some of them pose, others pout, and some simply smile, as if for a family snapshot. 
 

 

 

 
Continues after the jump…

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Posted by Amber Frost
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08.19.2015
09:18 am
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