Ian Flanders ‘Cruising’ is an intimate and confronting portrait of prostitutes in Sydney’s Kings Cross.
In the current photographic landscape where the conceptual artist statement is often more interesting than the photograph and the audience is asked to intellectualise the artists intent, the power of the camera is all but lost. Flanders ‘Cruising’ stands outside this trend and uses the camera at its most powerful, the images need no explanation and the portrait they paint of the hidden world of prostitutes in Kings Cross is profoundly moving and sad.
Reminiscent of the work of South African Photographer Roger Ballen, the strength of the imagery comes from Flanders ability to step beyond the role of detached observer. Ian spent 13 months getting to know the girls and earning their trust to allow him to walk into their personal worlds. The resulting work depicts a stark truth that has not been framed from a judgmental viewpoint. Flanders has not glamorised or eroticized his subjects and despite the images of nudity and masturbation ‘Cruising’ is not a show about sex. This is best illustrated by the most confronting and poignant image in the show, that of an anonymous prostitutes groin, her emaciated and scarred genitals exposed, her body vulnerable and damaged.
When ‘Cruising’ was shown as a multimedia presentation as part of Reportage 2010 Flanders came under criticism from some audience members for paying the prostitutes for their time. ‘The agreement was, I would pay for their time, and they would show me the rooms and let me take photos of them and the working environment. I was taking them away from their job while they were working, so I had no issues paying for their time.’ He was also asked whether he ‘ethically wanted to have sex with the girls’. In response Flanders ‘challenge(s) the viewer to find the beauty, and eroticism, then ask themselves that same question’
Whilst ‘Cruising” will undoubtedly have its detractors and Flanders’ intentions will come under scrutiny by some, his work takes the audience to a place where most people fear to tread and the work in ‘Cruising’ is as brave as its subject matter.