Escorts of Michigan

***Names in the article and video have been changed to protect subject’s identities.

State and federal laws prohibit the exchange of sex for money, but in the adult entertainment industry those called escorts walk a fine line between legality and criminal activity.

Regularly included under the umbrella of prostitution, escorts are paid for their companionship and time rather than the sexual acts.

Escorting is not technically illegal as long as the service provided does not include sex. Hence the distinction between charging for time spent together and not the acts.

26-year-old escort Faith uses the umbrella term but makes the distinction of prostitution with what she called survival sex, having sex out of extreme need for money or even food or shelter.

IMG_4812

Faith shows some clothing she wears when she works as an escort at her apartment Sat., April 15, 2017. 

Faith has been working as an escort for two years.

“It’s more like a career,” said Faith. “You’re trying to build a business, a label, a brand based on your personality, the clients you accept, what you do, the way you present yourself, the photos you take, your website. All of these things that end up showing whether or not you’re obviously having survival sex or if this is what you’re doing as a profession.”

Faith works with the full support of her boyfriend Andrew, whom she is in a polyamorous relationship with. She is also a mother.

“I have no qualms about what I do. I’m very proud of it,” said Faith. “It affords me a lot of things for my 5-year-old that I could not if I didn’t do this, there’s no way.”

Though she is happy with her job she no longer speaks with her family.

“My younger sister told our parents what I do,” said Faith. “They told me I was a bad mom who was endangering the welfare of my minor child and that I should let my daughter be with them because I was such a bad mom.”

Faith said she finds the hypocrisy and stigma surrounding her work appalling.

“That I am sitting here 24 hours waiting for you to call and I am ready for you because I want you to come and show me things that I have never seen before. Like no, sorry I have to go grocery shopping, I don’t have time for your ass,” said Faith.

“America is one of the largest consumers of the sex industry and yet, we condemn it so intensely and so profoundly,” said Faith. “I think it was George Carlin that said, ‘Sex is legal. Selling is legal. Why is selling sex illegal?’”

Other than financially, Faith said that her work has helped her personally.

“It’s helped my confidence,” said Faith. “It’s in my ability to communicate my needs and expectations from other people, it’s helped my ability to set, and maintain, appropriate boundaries. It’s helped me immensely, immensely. I don’t regret anything.”

One of the reasons Faith likes working as an escort is making connections with people.

“There is one story that I’ll never forget,” said Faith. “It was a guy who was probably 450 to 500 pounds. Logistically I was like, alright. We’re going to have a good time. Afterward he asked me, ‘Do you know why I was able to finish? Because I usually don’t.’ and I asked why and he said, ‘Because I genuinely felt like you wanted to be here.’”

“It just makes me feel good to make somebody else feel good. I like what I’m doing and I don’t feel like there’s anything wrong with it,” said Faith.

Z, 45, and her boyfriend Doug, 53, are swingers and have been together for eight years. A few years ago Z, who normally does accounting and payroll work, was on unemployment.

“It started really as a joke,” said Z.  “I was on unemployment and that was coming to an end. He said to me ‘You know like those checks are going to stop in a month or two?’ and I was like ‘Oh yeah I guess I should look for a job. Maybe I’ll just be an escort.’”

Z said they laughed and walked away after the exchange and Doug asked her two weeks later about it.

“And I said ‘Would you be okay with that?’”, said Z. “And he’s like ‘Well I’m okay with all the rest, we’ve been swinging, why wouldn’t I be okay with that?’”

Z has been working as an escort now for six years and works primarily in eastern Detroit.

“After I started doing this I actually did go back to work for about a year and a half,” said Z. “I was doing this very part time and I was working full time and I really just hated being in a cubicle again.”

Doug is supportive of Z’s job, something she said he wanted to hear all about when she first started.

“The stories are all the same,” said Doug. “At one point I just said, this is repetition. It’s amazing how it doesn’t really vary. The guy comes in, they screw, she gets paid, they talk for a little bit, he leaves. Wow. That’s it. What am I going to get jealous about?”

Doug believes more people should take advantage of the services escorts offer.

“If people were a little bit more open minded when the guy said wow she looks cute and the woman goes, well go fuck her, get it out of your system and then come back to me type of thing, think about all the divorces that could be saved,” said Doug.

Wayne State University student and Detroit resident Eliza Fitzgerald has been working as an escort less than two years. The 22-year-old and has been using the job as a way to pay off school.

It is currently Eliza’s only source of income following her ex-boyfriend, whom she had worked with, revealing her as a sex worker.

 

IMG_5201

Eliza Fitzgerald, an escort based in Detroit, Michigan, before class at Wayne State University on Wed., April 19, 2017. 

“I had to quit that job. He was abusive and I was fearful of him,” said Eliza. “So all of a sudden I didn’t have a job except for sex work and I really had to lean on that. It was really difficult because I still hadn’t gotten the hang of the industry. You’d try to work safely but when the rent’s due you might make some decisions that weren’t as safe.”

Eliza’s rates for the Detroit area start at $350.

“It’s kind of feast or famine. You might make your entire rent in one or two days, and so the other 28 to 29 days of the month it can be really scary,” said Eliza.

Eliza used to use Backpage, a classified advertising website that has since been taken down after coming under fire that their adult services section was being used for prostitution and human trafficking, including minors.

Just before Christmas Eliza arrived at an appointment and discovered the man had brought a gun.

“They didn’t hold the gun to me or anything, but they made it very clear that it was in their pants,” said Eliza. “They were very aggressive. I kept telling them to stop biting me and I couldn’t really raise my voice as much as I wanted to. I just really wanted to kick them out of the room, but I didn’t feel like I could. It was kind of like a coercive situation. And that was kind of a turning point for me when I realized I need to work differently.”

Escorts use a reference system, a vetting service for people they meet for appointments. When a client contacts an escort looking to make an appointment the escort then asks for their references. If the client has used an escort before they provide the names of other escorts they have seen and the escort will then contact the previous escort and make sure they are a legitimate provider and that the client is safe to see. If they are a first-time client each escort has system that varies. The escort may ask for personal contacts, social media information, or meet the client publicly (and at the client’s expense).

“If I get a bad gut feeling about somebody, I don’t see them,” said Z. “It’s not worth it for me to go to jail and to spend thousands of dollars, then to lose $200. I don’t care.”

As a way of protection, escorts also have online websites where they share information about clients they blacklisted to warn other escorts from providing for them or letting them decide if they want to see that person. Clients may be blacklisted for, of course violence, but also for shorting providers on their fees or wasting the escort’s time with missed appointments.

Eliza believes destigmatizing escorts is important and encourages escorts who can be out to “be out.”

“Some of the stigmas people have is that we’re all trafficked,” said Eliza. “There’s also a lot of stigma that we have drugs. Like I have clients sometimes ask me if I have drugs. Not just weed, but like cocaine and things I didn’t even know were drugs.”

Danielle has over started in the adult entertainment industry 20 years ago. She began as a dancer at 24 years old as a way to pay her way through her biotechnology degree at Michigan State University and is now a traveling courtesan.

As a dancer, Danielle said she would have men come to the club and ask her out to dinner.

“I would say yes, but if you want to take me out to dinner on a Friday night you have to pay me whatever I would make that night at the club,” said Danielle. “So it was that kind of transaction. It wasn’t like a previously thought out plan, it was like oh okay, yeah sure take me out but I still have next semester and book to pay for so if you give me $500 we can have dinner.”

Danielle said she liked working in a lab but she loved dancing and traveling and being an escort allowed her to do that.

“If I was contracted to do a project in a lab I would have to be there all the time,” said Danielle. “It’s not like a 9 to 5 job. If your bacteria is going to mutate you have to be there to see it happen. The uncertainty of having work was really scary. Where of course traveling and dancing and being an escort was job security.”

Danielle tours for about two to three days a week, three weeks out of the month.

“If I’m on tour in a certain city I’ll put up ads a month ahead of time,” said Danielle. “I book in advance; I get deposits and then I go. I sometimes schedule my tours intentionally around events that I would enjoy.”

Danielle’s rates normally range from $500 for one hour to $2,500 for eight hours. When she is touring exclusively her charges $3,000 for 12 hours to $15,000 for the week in addition to travel expenses.

“I always think that’s interesting when they’re (the client) like hey do you mind flying with this airline because I have points here,” said Danielle. “Ironically it’s usually Delta.”

 

IMG_3149

Danielle checks in with her travel agent at AAA before going on a tour on Wed., March 22, 2017. 

“A lot of escorts know a lot about travel,” said Danielle. “Be a member of every hotel chain and every travel discount thing you can be a part of because it all works together. AAA discount saves me a ton on hotel and travel. And restaurants, people don’t always know that.”

Danielle is a feminist but feels frustrated that as a sex worker she’s not allowed her own agency.

 

Screen Shot 2017-04-30 at 00.06.55

Danielle walks into an airport in Lansing, Michigan on Wed., March 8, 2017. 

“They want women to look pretty and be smart and have jobs, but they don’t want to acknowledge that I would want to have sex or want to take my clothes off,” said Danielle. “They don’t want to admit that that’s my choice. And on the other side of it, the far left feminist groups are more constantly thinking that I need rescuing and that I’m a victim. I’m not sure what they think I’m a victim of. It makes it very difficult to be a strong independent woman who wants to be a leader when both sides are telling me that I’m a victim and I need rescuing or that I’m completely brainwashed by the patriarchy.”

“Stigma is alive and it is real,” said Faith. “If one person destigmatizes sex work because of this I would be very happy.”

 

 

Coffee Bean Still Life

coffee2

For this week’s assignment I decided to photograph some inanimate objects and do a still life. My boyfriend’s love for me is comparable to his love of coffee. A large portion of his coffee consumption he actually roasts at home. So we had these beautiful Ethiopian Yirgacheffe beans hanging around that had this amber brown shade coffee3to them and some still had the sheen of oil from being roasted only two days prior.

I really wanted to play around with using light to shoot from underneath which I did in the image to the right. I actually took the glass from my coffee table and and lined the underside with a white sheet to use as a consistent base but doubles as a diffuser and set my speedlite to aim straight up. I also had a second speedlite set up to light up the beans from the top. I really liked the detail it brought out with really defining the shape of the individual beans while also keeping a lot of the shadows on that center cut of the bean.

coffee4

I decided to use a mirror as a base for a couple of the other images. I really liked the reflection of the coffee beans in the images and the extra bit of depth it added.

coffee

 

Boudoir, brackets, and a bearded dragon

Last week I did a boudoir shoot and I was really excited to give my new stands for my speedlites a try during an assignment.But while setting up for the shoot I had issues with the hot shoe attachments for the stands. More on that below. 🙂

Regardless of the stand malfunction, the photoshoot was a blast.

IMG_3710.jpg

She was doing the shoot as a surprise for her boyfriend’s birthday in April and for this shot she wanted to feature a Fossil watch her boyfriend had given her as a gift.

Once I found out that she had a bearded dragon as a pet, I thought it would be neat to get some shots of her with Bane, whom she had named after the DC Comics supervillain.

IMG_38156.jpg

The thing I love most about doing these shoots is that they are different every time. Boudoir is unique to each person and each person has varying levels of comfort with how they express their sexuality. It’s an immensely fulfilling experience to do a boudoir shoot with a woman who may not be fully comfortable with their body-image, but who do it anyway.

To see that person blossom throughout the shoot and become more confident and aware of how beautiful they are, and for my photos to play a role in that is truly an honor.

The equipment

I’d purchased the Neewer kit which included two stands with brackets for mounting the speedlight hot shoe, two translucent white umbrellas, two black/silver umbrellas, and a nice carrying case for the set. All for less than $50- totally within my student budget.

Upon receiving the product I set up both stands with my Altura speedlites and it worked perfectly. The stands and screws are mostly made of plastic and seemed like they’d be flimsy, so I made a mental note to just be careful. I disassembled everything and packed up my case for the assignment.

I did the shoot at my client’s apartment and I was excited to finally have a lighting setup that was efficient while also quick to put up and break down.

I was in the middle of attaching my speedlite to one of the stands when the screw that tightens the clamp which holds the speedlite popped off. That’s no big deal, you just screw it back in…unless it continuously just keeps popping out at you.

img_5434

Hot shoe attachment clamp for speedlite. The screw on the left is turned to tighten or loosen the clamp to fit hot shoe attachment for the speedlite. 

Upon investigation after the shoot I found the screw was in perfect condition but the insert for where the screw goes, wasn’t even threaded it was just a circular, plastic hole.

img_5437-e1488564983349.jpg

Side view of speedlite hot shoe attachment with screw clamp off. The hole in the middle is where the screw goes in to either tighten or loosen the attachment that holds the speedlite. 

I probably spent almost 10 minutes messing around which this attachment, which dropped my speedlite THREE TIMES, before I gave up and just used the speedlite without the stand. I didn’t drop a huge amount of money on my speedlites, but if they hadn’t fallen onto carpet my speedlites likely would have broken.

It’s your rite (to be Wiccan)

Glenda Bartel along with her best friend Melissa Collingham opened up the Livingston County Spiritual Center (LCSC), an alternative and holistic health service, to educate, inspire, and heal others.

The two provide services such as Reiki attunement, tarot and medium readings, and chakra and aura healing. They also teach classes and host workshops at the center.

One of the classes is Wicca 101.

According to Thea Sabin in her book “Wicca for Beginners: Fundamentals of Philosophy & Practice” Wicca is an evolving religion and a Wiccan is a person who has either formally or ritually declared themselves a Wiccan or simply is following the Wiccan religion/spiritual path.

img_2982


Glenda Bartel teaches the Wicca 101 class at the Livingston County Spiritual Center in Pinckney, Michigan on Sunday, February 12, 2016.

Bartel is a medium/clairvoyant and though she no longer follows Wicca religion she still identifies as a witch and enjoys educating others about Wicca.

“I wanted to share my knowledge with people, because I know what it did for me,” Bartel said. “So why can’t this be for other people?”

Bartel said she first realized she was a medium when she predicted her grandmother’s death when she was 12 years old. At age 14 she saw her great-grandmother’s spirit, an encounter she described as “bloody frightening.”

As for being a witch, Bartel said she didn’t really know anything about Wicca until she was 22 years old.

img_2977


Faye Sweeny takes notes during the Wicca 101 class taught by Glenda Bartel.

“I noticed how sensitive I was with the moon phases,” Bartel said. “I paid attention. But I’m also a triple Scorpio.”

Howell resident Faye Sweeny attended the Wicca class to learn about the religion and satisfy her curiosity.

“It may sound selfish, but to get a better understanding of myself. What am I doing here, where am I going, what’s my purpose,” Faye said. “I think this will help.”

Bartel believes Wicca is a great stepping stone for spirituality.

“It gets you in tune with Earth,” Bartel said. “It gets you in tune with the elements, it gets you in tune with the universe. It makes you respect all living things. These are essential things to know and learn on any spiritual path, not just Wicca.”

Two years ago Bartel decided to stop following Wicca and explore other religions and her own spirituality. Wicca is still a fundamental part of her though due to her being a witch.

“I was looking for spiritual awakening, spiritual enlightenment,” Bartel said. “And that takes a lot of work outside of Wicca. And because it is a religion you do have things that you have to follow.”

img_2994
Faye Sweeny takes notes over “Wicca: The Complete Craft” by D.J. Conway, a book Wicca instructor Glenda Bartel recommended for beginners to Wicca.

The religion of Wicca is based on a simple moral code called the Wiccan Rede “An ye harm none, do what ye will.”

According to Sabin’s book, the earliest church documents mentioning witchcraft is in the “Canon Episcopi” which could date as early as 906 AD. “The Canon said, essentially, that witchcraft was an illusion that originated in dreams, and to believe in it was heresy, or against the teachings of the church,” Sabin said.  So ensues the witch hunts and trials.

It wasn’t until about the 1950s that Wicca popularized. Followers began to make their own form of it and the faith made its way to The United States. Wicca made its way into popular witchcraft-based books and television shows, such as Bewitched, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Charmed, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Popular media featuring witchcraft is still prevalent but strong stereotypes still exist such as Halloween dressing up as the ugly witch with the face warts or calling someone who is being nasty a witch.

When asked about stereotypes and what people think about her being a witch, Bartel had a quick and firm answer.

“I don’t base my life on other people’s opinion because that means they control my life, not me,” Bartel said. “And I’m not giving people that kind of power.”

The Livingston County Spiritual Center is located in Pinckney, Michigan but Bartel and Collingham plan to relocate. Updates can be found on their Facebook page at facebook.com/livingstoncountyspiritualcenter/.

Catching up

New semester started and it’s just as busy as the last! Since I last posted I have been working on starting a few project for video that I’ll be posting intermittently over the next few months.

I’ve also been shooting boudoir shoots lately which I’ve really come to enjoy. Most recently I photographed my friend Kendra who wanted to do photos for her boyfriend for Valentine’s Day and it gave me an opportunity to try out some new equipment. Out of respect for Kendra’s privacy I’ll only post some PG shots.

img_2581

For school we were working with Canon Speedlites, really nice but easily $400+ a piece for the newer versions, or around $150 used if you’re lucky. I really wanted to invest in some of my own so I could shoot whenever I wanted and not worry about getting the equipment back to the school on time, but financially I couldn’t justify $150 for each speedlite at the time.

A while back I ordered an Altura Photo Speedlight for about $35. It kind of just sat in my spare bedroom that doubles as a make shift studio. I had a hard time getting it to fire not hooked up to my camera and I didn’t want to rely on it out in the field.

A little over a month ago I stumbled upon an Ebay posting for a set of five Pocket Wizards (the Plus ii) that was going for $130 at the time which is a total steal. I started price comparing and I ended up finding the Pocket Wizard PlusX for $55-60 used via Amazon, so I bought five. B&H sells a set of 2 for $145 brand new. I’m really happy with the PlusX, they have 10 different channels compared to the four channels on the Pocket Wizard ii and it also is compatible with other Pocket Wizards if you need to mix and match. What I also love and appreciate about the Pocket Wizard PlusX is that there is a battery life indicator. It has green, yellow, and red lights. It’ll flash green until the battery is below 50% then it’ll flash yellow until the battery life is below 25%, then it will flash red. I really appreciate this because then I don’t have to trouble shoot and spend time figuring out what isn’t working, I can just change the batteries and continue. Really love that addition.

The boudoir shoot with Kendra was the first opportunity I had to test the Altura Speedlite in the field and I was so happy with the product that I ended up buying a second unit for the next time I shoot. Compared to the Canon Speedlite series it doesn’t have the light up display that easily lets you see the screen in the dark and it also doesn’t adjust for distance with the flash, but it does allow to adjust flash output power and for $35 I will physically move the speedlite to save myself the money.

img_2891

Loving dog mom Kendra, poses with Charlie after the boudoir shoot. One of the things Kendra and I have been chatting about was getting some photos with Charlie so this was a great opportunity. Charlie was so curious and wanted to know what was going on, but he behaved very well and just lay down beside the bed, only jumping up while Kendra was changing outfits. Boudoir photos aside, this was one of my favorite photos from our session, with these two together.

Braving the cold

Can’t believe I haven’t posted in a few weeks! With the holidays, Christmas and New Years, and a surprise by my sister getting engaged (!) it’s been very busy and I’d realized I hadn’t taken much of any photos. Now that it’s been getting colder I’ve been dying to get some snow photos but as of yet the weather hasn’t worked out with my schedule. Plenty of winter left though!
Today Aaqilah and I ventured out to a local park to snag some photos. Daylight was not on our side though and with freezing temperatures and fading light we didn’t last very long, but here is one of my favorites from this session.

img_2531