A cult photographer’s raw, rugged life in words and images.
Sothern, notorious for his colorless, voyeuristic and often brutal images of Los Angeles prostitutes and the homeless, reveals the stories behind his photographs and offers a glimpse into a life of hardships and addictions that thoroughly challenged him. His prone portraitures are the result of years spent propositioning all manner of ladies of the evening, from a Mexican prostitute to a preop transvestite who resembled “Pocahontas,” with “boy parts hanging around, waiting for the guillotine.” The book’s sections, decorated with snapshots from the author’s distinctive photographic oeuvre, skitter from the 1990s back to the ’80s to find Sothern establishing himself as both a commercial photographer and a budding “artist,” while an affinity for ephemeral dalliances with prostitutes and escorts were the true formative experiences that molded his dark alter ego. Brief sketches of his father, a former pro photographer embarking on a fourth marriage, are braided into a whirlwind of booze, dope, blackouts and countless trysts spent photographing the desperate girls whose images front each chapter. Sothern’s grim narrative is hardly a sunny affair; it volleys among chronicles of short, custodial weekends with his son, bouts of acrimonious sparring with his ex-wife, Sylvia, the downtrodden women he captures with his lens, hospitalized illnesses and debt collectors. He daringly invites readers to sit bedside while he spends dingy afternoons in dusty motel rooms with streetwalkers, crack pipes, empty promises and his trusty camera, recording flashes of desperate women addled by drug abuse and hopelessness. Only in the memoir’s final pages does Sothern begin to reap long-overdue recognition for his “tastefully dirty” body of work.
A relentlessly gritty, cheerless portrait of a talented niche artisan.