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8 Photos Take You Into The Surprising World Of Phone-Sex Operators

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    Photo: Courtesy of Phillip Toledano.

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    Photographer Phillip Toledano's series, Phonesex, is intimate, sensual, and revealing. With that in mind, it might come as a surprise to learn that Toledano's father played a large role in his inspiration for the project: "I was taking care of my father, who had dementia," he explains. "And because he had no short-term memory, he hadn't realized that [my mother] had died, so I had to invent this kind of fantasy that she was in Paris taking care of her sick brother." Toledano adds that he and his father came to "live within this fantasy" together. It was only in skimming past ads for phone-sex lines in the Village Voice that Toledano made an improbable connection: "With phone sex," he begins,"two people agree to participate in a lie together, and that's what I was doing with my father."

    This was what drew him to the subject — the implicit suspension of reality that occurs during a conversation between a phone-sex operator and a caller. Clients would ask to "be" operators' dogs, or would inquire about operators' strength ("I'd like to see you lift my girlfriend's car," was a direct quote), all in pursuit of their own pleasure.

    In his conversations with the operators, Toledano learned that they find their work rewarding — in his words, "useful and vital." Their very availability makes callers' wildest fantasies permissible, and perhaps, more possible. "You can act out these incredible fantasies — which require extraordinary imagination — on the phone in a way that you can't if you were on a webcam," Toledano explains. He acknowledges that phone sex uses what he calls "an archaic technology," and that it may one day be completely obscured by webcam sex, making these operators' perspectives only more bittersweet. As Toledano points out, not all fantasies can live on a visual platform.

    He is also quick to add that the people he photographed got into the phone-sex business for their personal enjoyment: "They got a lot out of it. They learned about themselves, they learned about themselves sexually, they learned about people, about their own desires. It was much more of a two-way street than you'd think it would be."

    Click ahead to view a selection of Toledano's photographs and interviews with the operators. Phonesex, the book, is available for purchase here.

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  2. Photo: Courtesy of Phillip Toledano.

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  3. Photo: Courtesy of Phillip Toledano.

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  4. Photo: Courtesy of Phillip Toledano.

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  5. Photo: Courtesy of Phillip Toledano.

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  6. Photo: Courtesy of Phillip Toledano.

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