When I started going off piste and stopped testing with bricks and mortar glamour agencies but instead first with strippers then girls from the internet, it was then I started gradually encountering what is broadly known as the sex industry, which seems to range from kiss-a-grams to prostitution. This is one episode.
In about 1999, I was photographing a club night for a vodka company that were sponsoring it. Towards the end of the evening I photographed a girl who pulled up her skirt to show a devil tattoo on her buttock. She seemed game enough and always on the look out for suitable models, I asked her if she would pose for me. She told me she was an assistant manager at Pret-a-Manger (a chain of sandwich shops here in Britain), but worked some evenings at a gentleman’s club and it would be better for her to take them there. She said it had differently themed rooms and handed me a card. My vision of a gentleman’s club was of the traditional ones, established in the Victorian era with old gentlemen in wing-back leather chairs, that I had seen on TV. I guessed by the subtle tone in which she said it, that it was not quite like that, especially if they engaged girls who would show their arses at the drop of a hat. I had the feeling it might be be a lap dancing club or something. Anyway, it sounded well appointed and I imagined it would be an interesting place with nice decor.
I always like to see a location before a shoot if I get the chance and phoned to make an appointment to see the place the following Saturday. The place was a big double fronted house in Ilford, on the outskirts of London, next to Ilford County Court. I met the owner, a genial enough middle aged guy, who showed me around the place. It turned out the place was being used a brothel. I thought that pretty audacious as the grounds of magistrates court started from the end of the back garden. It was not, however the well appointed place I had imagined and the decor ran between kitsch and tacky. The themed rooms each had a painting on the door and decorated in a rather homemade way. It was on two or three floors with a sunbed in the basement and a pool table on an upper floor. It had enough interest though for me to decide to shoot in there.
The owner told me, to my surprise, that he had previously run it as a children’s home but after its second fire decided to try something else. He reckoned that the lad who raised the alarm both times was the one who had set it alight so he could be a hero. He did not mention his suspicions to the authorities because if it had been him then the place would not have been insured for that. Maybe the children of children’s homes are always are always trying to burn them down.
On the appointed evening I turned up early and got there before my model. I met the madam, a woman in her mid to late thirties, who was not exactly hard faced but did look like she would give you short shrift if the occasion demanded it. I met two or three other girls. One I remember was a model/stroke lap dancer and another was a petite, good looking Indian girl, who apparently worked in an office by day and whored the occasional few evenings a week. I asked them all to pose for me but they refused. Things seemed pretty slow. No punters turned up while I was there and there were hardly any phone calls. This did not seem to be the kind of place you needed to be a gentleman to join, nor required membership in any case.
When my model did finally arrived, to my astonishment, she told me she did not want to take her clothes off. I had to regroup and formulate a plan B. We talked while I prepared to take the pictures. I asked what an assistant manageress was doing in a place like this and she told me she was inspired by a biography of an escort (years later I met another such girl). The nights she worked depended on her other engagements. She also had a boyfriend who knew nothing about her other life. By the time I had packed up and left there still were no customers.
Four years later I was listening to London radio and it announced that a couple who ran a brothel next to next to Ilford County court were being sentenced.
It just occurred to me to do a quick search and this is what I found.