Working Girls: An American Brothel, circa 1892: The Secret Photographs of William Goldman
“They are also some of the most unexpected, inventive, sometimes even ravishing images ever to have emerged from the overlooked corners of late-19th-century photography’s dusty attic.” –
“Before my eyes were both young bodies and old physiques, some starkly naked, others seductively sheathed. They presented the artifice of feigned desire in vintage photographs from one hundred and twenty-five years ago. Some displayed the fresh faces of innocence while others the weary lined facades of bitter experience. These images were compelling individually but as a whole, they captured an unseen world of negotiated passion in American life, written about extensively but rarely, for good reason, documented visually. Multiple feelings of curiosity and excitement came over me after finally realizing the potential importance of these photographs. There was also a recognition that their acquisition carried responsibility to find out the story, which lay hidden behind those faces and figures from another era.” -Robert Flynn Johnson
“If a stranger arrived in almost any American city during the 1890s, he would have easily found a red-light district, tolerated by the police in exchange for graft, and accepted by the community because it hid and contained prostitution in a segregated neighborhood. The oldest profession was neither legal nor illegal; it was simply tolerated as a ‘Necessary Evil,’ as an effort to protect ‘innocent’ women and girls from rapacious men.
That would soon change, but during much of the nineteenth century, Americans viewed prostitution as a safety valve for sexually active men who might attack respectable young women or for wandering husbands who strayed from their uninterested wives” –Ruth Rosen
“Known as ‘unmentionables,’ undergarments were only seen in rare glimpses in daily life—a briefly lifted skirt of a woman crossing a muddy street exposed the lace ruffle of a petticoat. Worn by the prostitutes that William Goldman photographed, lingerie gives the erotic association with the nude body, but, with part of the picture unseen, the mind fills in using the power of the imagination. The undergarments would have provided the titillation of layers of fabric unraveling and protracted flirtation.” -Dennita Sewell
“For these working girls who were already going against the drudgery of toiling in a factory or as a domestic, who were surviving in a patriarchal world by their wits and sexuality, the opportunity to sit for Mr. Goldman was very likely not only thrilling—it was also empowering” -Dita Von Teese
“What we can surmise from his photographs is that Goldman was a truly sensitive human being both artistically and emotionally. The women seem playful in some images while moody and withdrawn in others, especially when they hide their identity with masks, fans, or hands. The manner in which Goldman posed these women, however, is never crude or unfeeling. He had a way of allowing the women to appear natural in the presence of his camera. The women display a willing collaboration with him in the creation of these captivating images.” -Robert Flynn Johnson