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David Emery's Portraits of BrothelsJuxtapoz // Monday, 21 Jan 2013
When tackling a touchy topic through photography, especially a topic that has more than its share of imagery floating around, how do you do so tastefully? How do you create new images that produce a new and awakening perspective upon a difficult and disturbing subject with an already long-standing history?
When Ken Gonzales-Day tackled the topic of lynchings, he modified the postcard images that were in circulation at the time, eradicating the problematic voyeurism centered on the spectacle and turning our gaze to the people watching the spectacle. In addition, he photographed trees that once witnessed these atrocities. Both projects never deliver the violence explicitly, but the violence is incredibly present despite its literal absence.
In his photo series Brothel, David Emery has his own quiet delivery. His pictures reveal the defunct structures that house the all-too-troublesome practice of prostitution. As viewers, we rest at a comfortable but eerily voyeuristic distance that suggests a slowly closing gap, an approach to the depicted brothel. As the viewer of these images, you are placed in a peculiar space that teeters between customer and investigator. A sense of guilt and anxiety hovers around these peripheral landscapes that seem to lie beyond the bustle of any major urban center and out of the scrutiny of any particular passerby. The simple title of the series is plenty to fill these empty scenes with haunting narrative, and Emery manages to do so without ever delivering an image that is obvious or disrespectful.