Jane Hilton presents “Precious”

Jane Hilton first encountered Madam Kitty’s Cathouse in 1998. In 2000 she was commissioned by the BBC to make ten documentary films in this brothel and the Moonlite Bunnyranch, both situated in Nevada, USA. In 2010 Jane decided to return with her plate camera for her latest book, Precious, a collection of intimate nude portraits of working girls.

Although prostitution is one of the oldest professions to have been made legal in Nevada, it is still not socially acceptable. In this series, Jane gives the viewer an opportunity to leave behind any preconceptions. The women are from different cultural backgrounds, ages and body shapes which also challenge the traditional idea of beauty.

As issues about their own body shape became apparent, so did their feelings about their journey as a working girl. In some cases this became a very positive and cathartic experience.

Jane went to a total of eleven different brothels to find women who were prepared to take part in this project. From big brothels like the Moonlite Bunnyranch - which she already had a strong relationship with - to the tiniest of brothels like Shady Lady’s and Angel’s Ladies who could only offer one or two women at any one time. Jane herself felt privileged to be allowed to stay in many of the brothels, which contributed to the trust these girls have gave her.

Each photograph is an intimate and personal portrait. Among them are Chelsea, a former drug and sex addict who planned on a career in forensic science; Cassie, a bright and sunny optimist whose burning ambition is to be a businesswoman and philanthropist — a young woman who has overcome the bleakest of pasts after witnessing her mother’s murder by a brutal stepfather; Nikki, who three months into her pregnancy decided to become a prostitute to save money for single motherhood; Sonia, a married 52 year old writer who lives at a brothel with her husband, moved in so that she could write about the experience.

“Precious” is defined as something of “unique value” or someone “dear or beloved”. What people consider precious is entirely subjective, as is beauty. Capturing their narrative, dignity and strength of character Jane titled the series ‘Precious’, because to her, they all are precious.

We asked Jane some questions about the series to find out more about her and the series:

In 2000, you were commissioned to make ten documentary films about Madam Kitty’s Cathouse and the Moonlight Bunnyranch brothels. What made you return to the brothels in Nevada 10 years later?

Unfinished business! It was a subject I know a lot about, and I wanted to show the women in a different way.

Why did you choose to shoot the series with a plate camera? Has this made the process more difficult? 

It certainly wasn’t easy; it took a lot of time and bringing home exposed film in loads of boxes on the plane was also not for the faint hearted. However, I felt it paid off dividends. The process took patience on both sides but it gave me time to get to know the women, which contributed to the intimacy of the imagery. It is a very controlled and clam way of working which suited the environment I was in where in actual fact I had time on my side.

How did you convince the girls to participate in this project? And how did you get them to trust you?

I had a history in this subject matter and some of the girls knew the films I had made in the past. They also loved the photographs I took of cowboys and liked the idea of making a beautiful photograph totally different to anything they would normally do.

What message do you wish to convey through this series?

To show these women in a different, non-judgmental way.

If we sent you to a desert island and allowed you to take only one picture by another photographer, what would it be?

That’s really hard as there are so many… but one that sticks in my mind is Elliot Erwitt’s black and white of a Russian bride and groom sat in the waiting room while the best man smirks next to them.

To view the entire series and other work from Jane Hilton, please visit: www.janehilton.com

Venue: Eleven Gallery, 11 Eccleston Street, London, SW1W 9LX
Open: 1st May
For more information on the exhibition please visit: www.elevenfineart.com

Title: Precious
Publisher: Schilt Publishing
128 pages
Price: £35

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