Tag Archives: Photojournalism

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.

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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.

 

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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.”

 

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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.

 

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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.”

 

 

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.

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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.

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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.”

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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/.

Photo Illustrations

For our photo illustration assignment we had to shoot two different ideas. I originally struggled to think of ideas but then I struggled to think of ideas that I could do that wouldn’t cost money to go out and buy items that I wanted to use as props in the photo.

I knew I wanted to do something with food. I’m a server and I came up with the idea to photograph how silly I find it when sometimes customers cut corners saying that they’re eating healthy because they ordered a diet soda or get angry when we don’t have low fat ranch dressing- and then order an all fried meal. The most difficult part of this assignment was really just my boyfriend getting to the first round of donuts before I had a chance to photograph them. That, and now I’m finding bits of bacon all over the carpet.

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“Cheating on your diet” A maple bacon blueberry filled donut wrapped in lettuce is still a donut, even if there is lettuce. Don’t cut corners, if you’re going to cheat on your diet then cheat. Web MD recommends not cutting out unhealthy foods entirely because it will lead to fixation and then splurging. This image was lit from the front left and another light to support and fill in the shadows coming from the right.

The inspiration for my second assignment was from an article I stumbled upon while scrolling through my homepage on Facebook. The article talked about this television show in Morocco that did a makeup tutorial for women to hide signs of domestic abuse. That really resonated with me about abuse being normalized and almost brushed under the rug and I wanted to do my assignment that showed the pressure women feel to keep quiet about abuse.

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“Concealing the abuse” Merissa Faye models cosmetic makeup and makeup imitating what a punch may look like. Models Taylor Kring and Kendra Peabody mimic the “shh” gesture to the pressure women feel to keep quiet. Faye, Kring, and Peabody were each lit with two lights with snoots to directionalize lights on the faces and give the fade to black effect.

Class Photo Illustration

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Our class split into two groups to compete against the other for who had the best idea and execution of the illustration. And though my team lost it has what I believe a strong message of dating, then and now and how drastically it has changed over the years due to technology and social media.

Still Life Stress

img_2419Marshmallows melt in a peppermint hot chocolate.

The hardest part about this assignment was figuring out what I wanted to do. There is such a wide array of options to do for still life and I tried multiple ideas from shaving cream and a razor, making my boyfriend model in his blue jeans, and trying to shoot coffee, but all of those things just weren’t clicking for me at the time. So I decided to go to Target to get a little inspiration.

Target was currently in the process of getting the Christmas decor out and I wandered around looking at everything, still in the mindset I was going to do something coffee related. Maybe a french press, throw around a couple whole beans, and a big beautiful cup of steaming hot coffee. But a good chunk of my mugs have chips in them so I knew I needed a new one. And as I was walking around Target I kept seeing candy canes,  peppermint, and chocolate everything. And then I couldn’t get this image of a beautiful cup of hot chocolate with a candy cane sticking out of it piled high with marshmallows in front of the open fire. Well, I don’t have an open fire but I ran with it anyway.

Originally I loved the idea of doing an aerial shot and shooting the image from above. I’d assembled this sort of Christmas-y cheese tray with nuts and the sort but once I started shooting the cheese and crackers didn’t really seem to fit, so I just looked for other angles. Below is my awful scribbles trying to depict what I had envisioned in my head of what the shot could look like prior to actually shooting.

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I had two strobes for this assignment, my main light coming from above and left of my subject and another from behind right. In the final image I noticed you don’t see as much of my backlight considering I actually had a pourer for milk directly right of the mug, so it blocked out a lot of that light. Still I’m happy with the result because I rather like the shadows caused by the candy cane and towers of marshmallows.

The Living Canvas

This past weekend I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to follow make-up artist and world renowned body painter Andrea O’Donnell for the day leading up to film her artistic process for the Gala Grandiosa at the Detroit Institute of Arts.  Andrea opened up her home to me, a complete stranger, and without her kindness and my seemingly far fetched daydream of filming a body painter this video wouldn’t have been possible. And though it isn’t flawless, I know the lighting could be better and the audio is a bit rough, it is a learning experience and that’s really what doing these videos is all about.

“Painting with light” or “let’s try it again, but this way”

All I can say is that I am so grateful this assignment is done. I had a blast shooting and I am so very, very thankful for every hand that volunteered to help me out.

I shot both of my assignments outside and was relying on some good weather. I was not so lucky and nearly had to reschedule multiple times, due to rain and a random blizzard, but we made it work with special thanks to extra hands and also umbrellas and duct tape! This assignment had so many moving parts and learning how to perfect the photo by trial and error. I wouldn’t say it’s my strongest skill, but I made it out alive.

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For my first shoot I thought it would be neat to photograph something with light trails from a car which led me to the idea of shooting a hit and run scene. I had my boyfriend drive his car with his headlights off while I shot my friend laying on the ground (and it had rained that day and was still slightly raining, she really is a trooper) and I shot her at full power on the flash, then had her stand up and shot her with flash on lower power and with a blue filter, then had her exit the frame. To expedite the process I had bought a bunch of duct tape and tape the filter over the flash so that I wouldn’t drop the filter and lose it in the dark and also to ensure that it covered it completely.

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The duct tape also came in handy because it started raining just a touch during the shoot and we duct taped umbrellas over the equipment to protect it so we could continue shooting. I wanted to shoot wide but I was afraid of light coming in from the side tampering with the photo and since Amanda’s ghost figure was standing up, so to accommodate for that I would have to zoom the photo too far out, losing some of the impact of the image. I decided to shoot vertically and as tight possible, but the issue we ran into with that was Amanda was having a hard time finding the right spot in the frame to stand. Eventually we solved this by finding some random piece of paper and putting it on the ground so she would know where to stand, and the paper wouldn’t be seen in the image because her full physical body would block it.

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The idea for my second assignment was sparked by an example I saw that depicted what appeared to be either a Dragon Ball Z or Harry Potter battle. I loved the idea of doing Harry Potter and after brainstorming with a friend thought it would be neat to recreate that moment in the Goblet of Fire where the ghosts of Harry’s family come out of the wand during his first duel with Voldemort. We decided we were going to do a practice shoot so we could get a feel for what needed to be done and how to solve potential issues. I was clicking the shutter to start the exposure, running to flash her with the strobe then do the lighting at the end of the wand then lighting the characters and it was just so much. The practice shoot helped me get a system down and plan accordingly for things like needing a more effective flashlight. The one I was using had three settings so you couldn’t turn it off immediately and it ruined a lot of images because of it. The second shoot went a lot more smoothly and we were done in less than an hour.

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In class the week before Halloween we did a group project during the class. My team came up with the idea of Bloody Mary so we came armed with an assortment of lighting devices, camera equipment, and a fog machine. The most difficult parts of that shoot was honestly getting the timing down, making sure no one ended up in the shot, and the fog machine which would just quit randomly, but added a really nice touch to the photo. We had set up shop in the women’s bathroom in Wightman Hall on Central Michigan University’s campus, and since we have a late class we didn’t really have much of an issue redirecting anyone in need of a bathroom. We also didn’t need to have a super long exposure because we had enough hands which meant we were able to take more shots in the time we had available and get “the” shot.