A book that features photos of male escorts and benefits a nonprofit that aids sex workers will be the subject of a January exhibit at Magnet, 4122 18th Street.
Escorts – The Classic Beauty of Male Sex Workers in San Francisco aims to shed light on an industry that some say is misunderstood. Part of the proceeds from the book go to St. James Infirmary, a local nonprofit that provides medical and social services for sex workers. Photos from Escorts will be on display beginning January 4 and throughout the month at Magnet.
“The point of the book, to me, is that sex workers, like anybody else, are not caricatures. They’re people,” Tom Schmidt, the photographer behind the book, said. “If you talk to and meet these people, they are students and activists and artists.” One’s worked as a software engineer, he said.
Escorts originally debuted this summer but Schmidt, 48, recently added 45 new pages of pictures, among other updates. The latest version of the book, which is being sold online for $65, plus shipping, will be available January 1.
Schmidt decided to create the book when, after he’d been taking photos in his studio, he discovered some of his models were escorts.
“I realized I had a collection that could come together as a book,” he said.
“A lot of them, they may have three or four regular clients they see, and that’s it,” Schmidt said of the men. “A lot of them see what they do as a type of social work, helping people who just want to be held or have someone to talk to or have someone to express affection to.”
Element Eclipse, 26, one of the models in the book, appears to agree. In an interview in June, around the time the book was first released, Eclipse said, “I personally feel like I’m more of a sex therapist than an escort.”
He said there are “a lot of people that just have an extra budget and are just looking for a good time, with no preconceived conditions.” Eclipse, who said all of his clients are men, specializes in massage and BDSM (bondage, discipline, sadism, masochism), but he’s also available for dinner and the ballet.
“I would say sex actually happens maybe 40 percent of the time,” he said.
St. James Executive Director Naomi Akers said in an interview today (Thursday, December 27) that she hasn’t yet seen the book, but she supports showing the “diversity” of sex workers.
In San Francisco, men get more recognition for being part of the sex worker industry than they do in other places, but generally, “when you look at all the discussions, it’s women, women, women,” she said.
Schmidt said that since the book first came out, people have been approaching him asking to be included.
Other photographers tend to portray them “in porn style,” he said, but “I love classical Greek and Roman sculpture,” and the photos reflect that.
“I’ve had a lot of comments from models that they’ve done lots of photo shoots, but they’ve never done one quite like what they had with me,” Schmidt said. The focus wasn’t on “making their dick look big and totally stressing one side of who they are,” he said.
Schmidt’s photos “are always spectacular,” Eclipse said. He said he agreed to appear in the book because “I want to give a better outlook” on the occupation. He said the photos portray “our true side, our real personality,” rather than “look at these little sluts.”
Schmidt compensates models with copies of photos they can use on their websites or for other purposes.
Part of the proceeds from the sale of each book go to benefit St. James. All photos in the book can also be ordered directly as prints. All of the proceeds from all prints go directly to St. James. Schmidt estimated he’s sold 75 to 100 copies of Escorts, and about $500 has gone to the nonprofit so far.
Schdmidt’s been trying to find a traditional publisher or printer so he can sell more of the book, which is self-published.
“Bookstores in the city have been very enthusiastic about it,” he said. “They’d like to carry it.”
Copies of the book will be available for sale at the January 4 exhibit opening, which begins at 8 p.m.
Prints of the photos can be ordered directly by emailing Schmidt at PhotoByDot@yahoo.com.