Working Girls of Place Blanche: Documenting the Parisian Sex Trade

By

15th Jul, 2013

Our story takes place in 1950s and 60s Paris at Place Blanche, in the shadows of Montmartre, in the heart of the red light district of Pigalle. France was ruled by a devout Catholic, General Charles de Gaulle, who had reinstatement a 300-year-old law that punished landlords who allowed prostitutes to work on their premises by confiscating their property.

A little-known Swedish photographer was living in Paris at the time and began to experiment with an aspect of street photography that not many had dared to document.

Christer Strömholm didn’t just observe the Place Blanche after dark, but became a participant of its wanton world. The community of prostitutes, transexuals and transvestites that he followed became his friends. Born male or female (it’s often very difficult to tell), these ladies of the night are beautifully captured through his lens, almost like movie stars of the silver screen.

For transexuals of that time, Paris was no easier than the small towns many of them had fled from. They couldn’t get social security or normal jobs because their personal appearance wouldn’t match their identification papers. With society turning its back on them, they sold their bodies. If they made enough money, there was the hope of making it to Casablanca where they could legally be physically transformed into women.

In 1983, Strömholm published his book, Les Amies de Place Blanche:

“This is a book about insecurity. A portrayal of those living a different life in the big city of Paris, of people who endured the roughness of the streets.
This is a book about humiliation, about the smell of whores and night life in cafés.
This is a book about the quest for self-identity, about the right to live, about the right to own and control one’s own body.
This is also a book about friendship, an account of the life we lived in the place Blanche and place Pigalle neighborhood. Its market, its boulevard and the small hotels we resided in.
These are images from another time. A time when de Gaulle was president and France was at war against Algeria.
These are images of people whose lives I shared and whom I think I understood.
These are images of women—biologically born as men—that we call ‘transsexuals.’
As for me, I call them ‘my friends of place Blanche.’ This friendship started here, in the early 60s and it still continues.”

— Christer Strömholm, 1983

 

Les Amies De Place Blanche Hardcover is available to buy on Amazon 

If mid-century Paris and its red light district interest you, I recommend watching Gigola:

YouTube Preview Image

:::

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE:

.

 

You Might Also Like

Comments

More in Conversation StartersDon't Be A TouristHow to start a subcultureInspiration VaultLife is MessyOff-Beat & Little KnownTeeny Tiny Stuff

Hot Off the Press

Editor's Picks

beirut3

A Prime Minister’s Abandoned Beirut Mansion

There's one type of home you don't really expect to find crumbling in an abandoned and decaying state– such as the ones that belonged to heads of state or government, for example. But when a co...

Trending 7,148
5126739968_1a75759ab9_b

The USB Sticks Hidden in Walls across the World

Five years ago, Berlin-based media artist Aram Bartholl launched a project called 'Dead Drops'. I know, I'm a little late in taking notice, but the trouble is, Adam's project is rather hard to spo...

Trending 26,892
denver13

Take a Tour of a 1964 Underground Fallout Home

I found this little gem of a photo series on my weekly fish through the LIFE archives, accompanied by just a few clues to the full story behind it. Filed under "Underground House in Denver, phot...

Trending 16,027