This story was originally published on December 7, 2015.
When Alicia Vera set out to document the life of "Eden," a stripper who became a sex worker, she didn't realize how much the pair would have in common. Vera met Eden while working as a sort of marketing assistant for strip clubs in San Francisco, photographing the strippers on the side. Vera said that Eden "just had this energy about her" when they met.
"I went up to her, and I told her [about] the project I was doing, and we instantly became friends," Vera told Refinery29. Vera eventually based an entire photography project exclusively on Eden, but, she said, "I don't think it's completed at all. It's something that I want to continue for the rest of my life."
Vera said that while she was photographing Eden, she was surprised at how much Eden's work seemed like an office job: Most of Eden's time was spent on adverting and business organization. "The sex was, like, the least part of it," Vera said. "It lasted, what, 10, 15 minutes? And then they were gone, and the rest of the time she was posting ads again."
Sex work and sex-worker rights have been heavily debated in recent years. Although there are many feminists who believe that sex work should be abolished, sex workers in many different parts of the world have organized to advocate for themselves, and some countries have made large-scale changes to prostitution and sex-work laws.
In August, Amnesty International formally adopted a policy
that advocates for what it calls "the decriminalization of all aspects of consensual adult sex — sex work that does not involve coercion, exploitation, or abuse," a position supported by global public-health groups. U.S. lawmakers have not been nearly as progressive
in recent attempts to legislate prostitution. But sex workers are speaking out and banding together more often, and it could have a big impact on how society treats them.
Whatever your opinion of the sex industry, Vera wants her project to illustrate the normal nature of sex workers' lives. "I don't see it as a project about a prostitute, I see it as a project about a woman who's trying to find herself," Vera said. "No matter what path you decide to take, we're all human, and we all experience the same emotions, whether you have this 9-to-5 office job, or you're a prostitute. We all experience the same feelings."