My favorite image in Lauren Reynolds’ stark, brilliantly-shot photographic journal, Sex Work is Real Work, has to be the two-page spread that covers pages thirty and thirty-one. It is one of the pictures in the book that does not actually exhibit any of the dancers who danced at South Carolina’s now-defunct Gold Club, during the five years Reynolds worked and recorded her experiences there. It appears that it might have been a slow night for the club. Hardly anyone else is in the picture. The shot is behind the backs of three patrons, watching a dancer and talking amongst each other. Nothing about the picture is particularly special. Except that it captures its scene with clarity and that intangible, critical ability to take a moment in passing and capture the best image of that moment. What makes Sex Work is Real Work such an intriguing set is the overall impression it leaves. The impression is that of a strip club that is one of many. We know, or at least hopefully know, that every one of these establishments have employees of all moods and types, patrons of all moods and types, stories, wild nights and days so slow that they take a decade to end. The title of the book is the beginning of an explanation to those who don’t know (and there are still, it would seem, quite a few who don’t) that these places are a business like any other. Sex Work is Real Work contains a number of nude shots, but the overall design of the book isn’t titillation. It’s what you come to appreciate about The Gold Club and other places like it after you’ve finished the tour.
The big difference between places like The Gold Club, and a place like Wendy’s is obviously the exotic dancers. Plenty of the images in Sex Work is Real Work are of the women who worked at The Gold Club during its run (the two-page collection of employee portraits, both male and female, is another feature of the book). Some are shots of women of several races, looks and sizes backstage, getting ready for a shift or just mugging for the camera. Several portray them in the midst of a routine. These in particular again point to Reynolds’ phenomenal ability to snatch a second of the real world. Only the best photographers can seize the opportunity to take a picture, and immortalize the best chance for color, light and figures to tell a complete story unto itself. Lauren Reynolds accomplishes this over and over again.
Each picture can tell that complete story, but that’s not what makes Sex Work is Real Work such a stand-out in the field of photography books. Reynolds has worked for several years as a dancer, so her appreciation and understanding of the material cannot be questioned. Sincerity goes a long way here. It is prevalent on every page. It is that authenticity that shows us what all of these pictures bring about, when taken as a whole. Sex Work is Real Work shows us The Gold Club with as much insight and respect as a film, conversation or actually being there might have. We see this place as a business, we see the work, the things that surround the work, and, of course, the people who were there. The impression Lauren Reynolds leaves us with is the entire story she wanted to tell. Everything in Sex Work is Real Work speaks for itself, and it says a great deal about its history and people. That’s why the photo of the three men watching and talking is my personal favorite. It is one night in a thousand, and that can lend a lot to something as rich as this.
The book is unfortunately a bit on the pricey side, owing to the high costs of self-publishing a volume as slick and professional-looking as this, but a couple of pages can be previewed for free, and it will make a good addition to any bookshelf. It would be nice, also, to see someone as gifted as Reynolds continue in her art. An eye like hers can show us the essential, the human and the world itself in the scope of the medium she has chosen.
Lauren Reynolds, High Heels and Dollar Bills: Five Years at the Gold Club: A-