Photographer Camilla de Maffei’s series Smoking Women provides a poignant glimpse into the lives of aging sex workers and former sex workers. In her native Barcelona, prostitution is considered taboo, and the female workers are labeled as “lost” and shameful when in reality, these women are utterly regular, forced to turn to the industry by threat of poverty. The work may be lifelong, or it might be a short while; either way, de Maffei says, “being a prostitute leaves a permanent mark.” Because of societal pressures, most sex workers stay hidden within their private homes for fear of scrutiny and judgment. Smoking Women is an archive of individual lives, but it also serves as a broader examination of womanhood, sexuality, and the female body.
De Maffei’s subjects seem to exist behind a veil of dim lighting; when shown, we see only the backs of their heads, meticulously styled hair, or a pair of wide chocolate-brown eyes. Here, we are disallowed from becoming voyeurs; instead, we enter these women’s dark homes, filled with the inescapable anxiety that we ourselves might be discovered, if only a light is switched on.
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