The defense of sex workers in France : a long battle against the State & a redefinition of feminist solidarity

The defense of sex workers in France : a long battle against the State & a redefinition of feminist solidarity

The defense of sex workers in France : a long battle against the State & a redefinition of feminist solidarity

photo – Léa Michaelïs

The defense of sex workers in France : a long battle against the State ; a redefinition of feminist solidarity

Mid-august 2018 in France, in  “Bois de Boulogne” a forest famous for the presence of both sex workers and clients, Vanessa Campos Vasquez  was murdered. She was a transgender woman.

In February 2020, at night, Jessyca Sarmiento was working in the same place and was hit by a car. She was an immigrant trans woman.

Both women came to France seeking something. Both were proud to be sex workers and both were working unprotected, may this protection come by the state or the police or the surrounding environment.

For building this piece, I have been helped by the generous participation of the STRASS (Syndicat du TRAvail Sexuel – Sex workers Union, national group). This organization was born in 2009 after the  colloquia “Assises Droits et Prostitution”. The union saw its creation in reaction to an observation made at the time by a union of sex workers participating this meeting : in France, regarding sex work, French laws are repressive. Sex workers need a union by and for sex workers.

The Strass is the first official sex worker union in France. Their goal is to enforce sex work in common labor law, whatever may be the conditions of practice, gender identity or sexual orientation of the workers. Since 2016, their fight is structured around decriminalization of the clients as well as the reclamation for rights and access to health care and protection.  The Strass works tightly with non-profit organization such as Acceptess defending trans people rights, AIDS and Doctors Without Borders amongst others. 

Before going further, Amar, my source at the Strass, questions the fact of being a white woman and being able to talk about sex work with your face uncovered. “This is a privilege that Latina women or trans sex workers don’t have”. For this interview, I also asked a friend of mine, Rose, who is an escort in Paris to tell me about her work and testify about the realities she lives daily. She also is a white woman and supports others sex workers who don’t have the privileges to talk out loud about their professional lives the way she does.

In France, there is a reality of transphobia and racism perpetrated by the State. The fear and rejection of sex workers is  what we call here “Putophobie” or “whorephobia”.  In French, “Pute” = whore. This word is the most used to speak about sex workers ; it comes from the old-school insult “putain” also a very common swearword. In the Larousse dictionary, the definition of “pute’ is Vulgar, offensive. Synonym of whore. ‘Putain’ according to the same dictionary means “Prostitute. Debauched woman, without morality.”

The construction of the french myth : from control to invisibilization

“Putophobie” was conceptualized by Marianne Chargois, sex worker, festival initiator (artwhoreconnection) and activist. She uses the word ‘whorephobia’ to designates the systemic oppression lived by the sex workers, may they be transgender or not, may they be immigrant or not, may they be women or not.

Firstly, according to Amar, my contact at the Strass, the most important to know when we think about sex work is to recognize the term ‘whorephobia’ as well as recognizing what it means in the collective, as well as in the feminist collectives.

In her words, the main issue in France is the institutional systemic oppression regarding sex workers. More precisely, “In the French legal system and the media, the prostitute figure is the one of the victim. There is a language/semantic code referring to the absence of choice (…) This implies that we are not capable of thinking and commitment to ourselves”.

“There is this idea that our bodies don’t belong to us, that they belong to a system. The body becomes merchandise. The concept of ‘paid rape’ becomes the main vision of what we do.”

In an ideological system where whorephobia is still practiced by the state, the possibility of choice by sex workers does not exist. In that sense whorephobia as a tool for oppression, influences the representations. Furthermore, the construction of this still-image of what is and what should be the prostitute has been fixed for several centuries and pushed towards an even more stereotypeds canvas in the latest years. Amar, talking about this tells me about the image of the prostitutes in “high heels in the car, garter belt, obscurity”. This representation, in itelf, is whorephobic.  It can be said and written now that the institutional feminist discourses have been for decades reinforcing this “typology of the sex worker as an exoticized victim”

The point here is: the hypocrisy living well and strong in France in regards to the presence of sex workers in all the territory and their conditions of work has been denied by the successive governments. This state of ignorance of reality is continuously harming sex workers. Moreover, and it is not the least to say, agressions of this kind not only come from the authorities but also from within the feminist ranks. During the confinement period in France (from march 16th to may 11th 2020) sex workers became targets for some of the most radical abolitionists out there. The Strass received threats and some sex workers were personally cyberattacked by other women on the fact that they were taking risks in working with clients during a pandemic period.

Colonization of langage by white feminists: a whorephobia issue

Even if this is a badly promoted reality, as much as whorephobia exists, there is also a mechanism of erasure of sex work existing in the French feminist mainstream movements. Amar explained to me that during the quarantine time in France, a wave of violence directly targeted the sex workers community in France. A specific group called “Abolition Porno Prostitution” used this quiet time to organize a harassment campaign on social media. As Amar told me, this kind of cyber-violence was not knew, those feminists have been strongly fighting against any improvement for sex workers labelling themselves as “feminists heroines fighting prostitution”. This argument highlights the well-spread idea that sex workers cannot help themselves, that they are once again victims that need to be saved by the only feminists that matter: white, privileged, close to power structures.

In response to these attacks, the Strass and their allies have reported a complaint to the police for psychological violence. The hope that they will be heard stays but the relationship between the French judiciary system and the union of sex workers is unfortunately not in the best terms.


Racism and transphobia in the French public sphere : a sex work issue

This issue also relates to what goes on in the feminist mainstream discussions in France where most of the time, migrant women, trans women and women of color overall are excluded. 

The Strass, as Amar tells me firmly, positions itself strictly against these feminist groups for one main reason : sex workers feel unrepresented. “There are trends that are getting stronger. In France, the biggest movements are whorephobic, transphobic, Islamophobic and negrophobic”

For example, this year, on March 8th, the movement NOUS TOUTES organized an enormous gathering all around the country in order to celebrate the fight for women’s rights. This collective is part of the problem in the fact they underrepresent what makes women in this country and what those women which they don’t represent need, and ask : colorful, diverse in their goals, in their gender identities and sexual orientations, in their economic statuses and in their recognition in the country. Intersectionality is yet to be used as a real tool for representing and giving the voice of all women the space they deserve.

Lately, groups calling themselves “radical feminists” have been taking more and more public spaces and power in the feminists movements in France. These groups easily communicate with the state because they represent the same fringe of people that institutionalized mainstream cis-centered white feminists in the government. Even though some of them, in all their radicality aim at shaking up the public opinion, have anchored their biggest success in the exclusion of sex workers and transgender women. The feminism of these groups is mainly universalist and abolitionist, as well as – and I hate to say it – whitely supremacist. Even the ‘official’ numbers supposed to give informations concerning the situation of sex work in France don’t play out the reality. The number of transgender migrant women who are sex workers are inflated in the official news. The idea that most migrant women automatically enter prostitution networks and same for trans women aims at reinforcing the “BAD etiquette” on sex work. Moreover, this inflation creates a distance between what happens really on the field and the direction that the government could actually take regarding helping ALL sex workers and guaranteeing them legal status and health care rights”.

By virtue of Amar’s word, “There is a need to reinvent the movements. Something strong is happening behind the scene. FeminismS in the plural forms will have the space they deserve with accordingly spread discourses, expertises from a militant point of view. Women, from the street, need they realities recognized”.

Advocating for autonomy : sex workers in France want self-organization and their voices heard

In the public debate in France, a lot of people (most of them who don’t know much about the realities of sex workers) think that the best thing to do (how ironic right ?) would be to reopen the ‘maisons closes’ or brothels. According to Amar, this would bea deletarian solution allowing the State to control the bodies, hence suppressing our self management”.

Re-instaurating ‘whorehouses’ in France, according to the Strass’ representant, would imply sanitarian control from the state. For migrant women, the situations would be even more difficult ; they would not be able to work because of the immigration statuses and the length of the process, slowing down the access to work permits especially because of the illegal aspects of prostitution.

One solution would be to organize cooperatives. Through them, sex workers could self-organize without depending on the French government and allowance for work. Rose (escort in Paris) who is independent sex workers, tell me that in this way of working, she found self-sufficiency, autonomy and a sense of freedom that only this frame of work can provide.

“If we don’t self-organize, we become each other’s pimps. It’s a hypocrite vicious circle” explains Amar. As collective initiatives, the idea would be to create ‘Common places of work” in order to guarantee the security of everyone. The history of prostitution in France[1] has shown through time that having a matron didn’t help women have financial security and that every bump in the political spheres has them on the first line of conflict. Police, historically too, has not been the first help nor facilitator for sex work to do their job peacefully.

[1] Mothers, Marraines, and Prostitutes: Morale and Morality in First World War France Author(s): Susan R. Grayzel Source: The International History Review, Vol. 19, No. 1 (Feb., 1997), pp. 66-82


Police and sex workers: the need to highlight realities of conflict and negligence

“We’re not really friends with the police” To say the least… Amar stays polite but says very clearly that things got even more difficult during the 2020 confinement period.

Indeed, the police stigmatizes, gives fines, and shames sex workers. They will keep doing it and have been doing it for centuries. Why ? There is this return of the 19th century imaginary culture (also thanks to tv shows and mainstream media) brothels fantasy, daily mundane police brutality for those working in the streets. In other words, even though prostitution in itself is not illegal, there is a process of re-criminalization in action, that is unjustified, directly coming from the police forces.

When it comes to official complaints to the police regarding aggressions or rapes, may it be by clients OR NOT, may you be a sex worker, a woman, transgender or not, “either they don’t take the complaint because you’re a prostitute, or because you were looking for it”.  Amar insists on the fact that the majority of sex workers in France do not trust the police. There is a reality where in case of harassment, rape or any kind violence (also psychological), appropriate and efficient help rarely comes from these authorities which are supposed to protect rather than intimidate.

“In 99% of the cases, we cannot say to the police ‘I’ve been attacked while doing my work’ and that is why we mostly go to specific associations helping sex workers”. The solution seems, for now, to seek help inside communities, in between workers. Amar repeats, sadly “The police cannot do anything for us”.

In 2018, Rose went to the police to file a complaint against a client. In the 13th precinct of Paris police, Rose simply got rejected when she said she was a sex worker. Finally, she met a police officer who took the complaint for hours. For a complaint that’s supposed to take no more than an afternoon, she felt unsafe, had to justify herself several times and in the end, the complaint was classified as a cold case on the principle that she may have lied because the client didn’t pay. In fact, this was an aggression and the fact that the last one was classified was used against her when she filed a complaint for rape against the father of her child in summer 2019. This testimony shows the harshness of the situation for sex workers when it comes to reporting aggressions, the fact that the police simply do not believe victims most of the time. Specifically for sex workers, we cannot undermine the difficulty for them to trust the police and the absolute necessity of alternative networks of solidarity to help one another survive gender violence in the practice of work or in the personal spaces.

Outside of Paris : a solidarity all over the French territory

In France, the reality of sex work is that everybody works. There is this very famous cliché of the Parisian prostitute but the real world is significantly different. The question is : what are the specificities of every places of work ?

The federation Parapluie Rouge aims at gathering associations of sex workers all over the French territories in order to create a cartography of sex work in France. This mapping of sex work and its mobilizations shows a panorama of how sex workers evolve. Their work is necessary also to help defend their cause in front of the court when it’s time to defend the sex worker’s cause in front of the government, amongst other necessities.

Amar, whilst telling me about the realities outside of the Parisian sphere, highlights a very important point “Everybody has to work together” meaning that the solidarity has to be real and efficient. In some places in France, where women work in rural areas, the danger is sometimes bigger than in the cities and the police forces even more small-minded. All over the country, the community fights for the same goal: rights, protection, heath care and labor equality.

No feminism without the ‘whores’

Outside of the known: what going on for those working online?

Most people think that sex works occurs in dark places with clients that are violent and rough, visions are full of clichés and realities mainly very different than the lambda citizen thinks. Rose for, example, tells me explicitly “I love my job, I get to choose who I meet or not. I have a very flexible way of working, specific websites where I feel safe.”

Some sex workers work online, others work in the porn industry, may it be feminist or not, the scenes all happen to have their own personal issues. Rose adds, regarding the specificities of escorting : “When we work online, it’s very important to find girls to speak with. We find each others and remind ourselves we’re not alone, we’re very real people with our love life, struggles and it is necessary to be in touch with networks of sex workers.”

Regarding the internet, France and sex work, it is very recently that things got worse.

La LOI AVIA (The Avia LAW) passed in France on June 24th 2020, stipulates that any content that could harm children or heinous content could be censored in 24 hours. On paper, this could be a positive thing, for protectors of the morale, it is. But for minorities, or and here, sex workers, it is a direct call to hate. It is a means to and end : silencing and stopping and sex work activities outside of the street where the police can actually fine and stop the clients from going to get their service. More over, this law was passed forcefully in two times. Firstly, the deputee Avia asked for any escort ad online on the French web services could be suppressed. This amendment was not voted. Secondly, and in the voted version, Amar resumes the law as such “It is as if they want to supress soliciting but online. They penalize what is legal on the street”.

Rose, in regards to this law, could not be clearer: “This is bullshit. It is hyprocrite, unsane. They want to unable us to work pretexting to protect us. In fact, we are even more stigmatized, erased. Our jobs, our voices are being erased, our legitimacy, our status that is supposed to be tolerated. In France, a police officer can hear you if you file a complaint (which means we are not illegal) but this law puts us in great danger.”

The Avia law directly aims at cam girls and cam boys, escorts and anyone working in the sex industry and online. This is state censorship and officialised surveillance. “They impeach us from working in normal conditions.” Twitter accounts are being supressed, ads on escorting websites, in other words “we can’t work. Porn is bad, explicit is bad, sex is bad” (Amar).

Overall in France, there is a lack of consultation by the state to the concerned populations. Sex workers and the Strass have been trying to reach the government but Marlene Schiappa, the former minister delegated at the gender equality ministry has repeatedly refused to meet anyone from the Syndicate. The French government keeps using oppressive rhetorical mechanisms to confirm repressive laws and authoritarian practices enforced by the police. Sex workers as collective form a part of the feminist thought in France and have been for decades. Now, the challenge is that the feminists in power, those who have a sufficient length of arm to reach out the poles of decisions finally open their discourse and doors to those who need it most.

Interview with Nina Medioni on The Veil : Photographing the youth and the space in Bnei Brak, Israel

Interview with Nina Medioni on The Veil : Photographing the youth and the space in Bnei Brak, Israel

Interview with Nina Medioni on The Veil : Photographing the youth and the space in Bnei Brak, Israel

I met Nina Médioni in September 2016 on the terrace of the Ping-Pong Club, a bar in Mile-End, Montréal. Following our encounter, I went to squat the shabby sofa in her workshop on the 7th floor of UQAM where she was preparing different artistic projects. For several months, I watched her create as we spent the winter together, contemplating each other conquer our dreams, desires, all of the latter whilst embracing our contradictions.

Nina is a photographer.

Nina is also a human-woman and a long-time artistic crush of mine. I have no promises to make but I can assure you that her work is worth the detour.

I decide to make up this piece about her today because she needs you to be aware of a few things. Nina Médioni, recently graduated from the National School of Photography in Arles, in the south of France, has embarked on a human and personal adventure but also in a full-fledged social experience. In this interview, we review together a few points regarding her on-going photographic project: The Veil.

The Veil (Le Voile in French) understands photography as a witness, almost always as much documentary as it is artistic. The pictures presented here were taken in Bnei Brak, Israel, where lives the largest ultraorthodox community in the world. Some photographs were captured in Jerusalem, where she stayed during her trip.  These are the different layers of meaning that intrigue the photographer. Her camera, analogic, is like a friend, a confidant with which to chart her course, to live the instant, to shed light on realities that most people do not know well.

Let’s enter into the vision of Nina Médioni, let’s wander into the storytelling of a woman who photographs as she speaks, wisely, calmly, in a very serious yet spontaneous way as if she was always on the edge of understanding something bigger than her.

As a photographer, in the act of sharing images, what does the word “conversation” mean to you ?

When I first read the question, there was an ambiguity. I thought “do you want to engage debate by sharing those images?” or “do I want to create a conversation by sharing those images”.

I understand it both ways. First, the project “The veil”, is about my relationship with the territory and especially with Bnei Brak.  But I could not focus on Bnei Brak without also dealing with the fact that it’s very close from Tel Aviv. During the project, I took pictures both of  Tel Aviv and Bnei Brak and both of the youth of Tel Aviv and Bnei Brak. It was interesting to create a conversation between the two cities. Finally, I concentrated more on what it is to be a young person living a country composed by several frontiers. This series is about creating conversations between territories that should not be speaking to each other normally.

I certainly aim at creating a debate. I think the city of Bnei Brak and ultraorthodox Judaism is something polemical. I don’t have any judgment. I don’t aim at making a documentary about religion or being Jewish because it is not about this but I wanted to show a more personal point of view. I wanted to show softness and intimacy of my family living there and not only on the very hard appearance that you can see when you overlook the city and don’t really know Bnei Brak. The question is “What is really Bnei Brak or a religious life?”.

Does ‘standpoint’ says something to you ? Where do you situate yourself when you’re on the field ? Internal, external, neutral ?

What was interesting is that I took a lot of time to find my standpoint. It was really not easy for me because I am not Jewish. A part of my family lives in one of the most exclusive city of Israel. I was always inside the group because it’s my family and I share memories with them. But also, I was outside because I am not Jewish.  In Israel, even if you are not religious, not being Jewish is something very complicated.

For example, you go to a bar and after five minutes someone can ask you “Are you Jewish?”. You say no and this person can say “Well, sad for you”. It is a very big deal in the Israeli society, not only about religion, it is something cultural. It was very interesting  for me to find a balance and sometimes not to find a balance and feel completely outside of it. I think also this balance lies in the quest that I engaged during my stay in Israel.

This is really the main point of this period : how can you portray a city and a religious city especially while not being part of it ? What can you share of it while not being part of it when you don’t understand all the rituals ? There are a lot of rituals, a lot of things that you can’t do.

You have to be aware of a lot of stuff. Sometimes I was aware, sometimes not and that was also very interesting for me.  My position as a photographer has always been being inside and outside, finding the right distance between being “marginale” and within when I was part of the intimacy of my family. I think it was very interesting to find this balance. I hope I found it. I hope that in the end, when I will share this work next summer, and in the book I am preparing too, this will be understandable. The standpoint was inside and outside.

Conveying testimonies of existences beyond the occidental vision of ‘jewishness’ is part of your work, why did you choose to focus on photographing the youth in Bnei Brak ?

At first, I wanted to go back to Bnei Brak because I always heard the story of my older cousin who moved in Isreal 20 years ago. She was jewish but not religious and suddenly she decided to move in Israel and build a family to lead a very religious life. I was always fascinated by this figure that I did not really had the chance to know when I was a child.

To introduce the context, I’ll say that the first time I was in Bnei Brak was in 2015. I just decided to go see her and her family, not to do a photo project. I didn’t really meet my cousin before this trip in Bnei Brak but we had a lot in common even though I am not jewish. We shared a lot and it’s interesting because when she was 18 years old in France, she wanted to prepare the Femis (School of Cinema in Paris) and just before doing the exam she decided to go to Israel for a month to think about her project. Finally, she never came back. This attraction that she had for cinema and images, the fact that she went to a very religious community where pictures are not really allowed was very interesting and I was very much fascinated by this girl and her choice. I wanted to understand.

Then, when I was 17 or 18, I found out I was kind of like her, a bit lost maybe and very attracted by doing a school of art. I thought “I could have been this person”.

When she saw, when we spoke, when she finally accepted that I come to Israel to do this project, she still had this curiosity about pictures and images. Now, when we speak, we can be really close friends. This bond we have beyond religious is amazing and it’s not evident because religion is everywhere when you live in Bnei Brak.

In your vision, is there a specific goal in sharing the lives of those young people you photograph ? Do you aim at sharing a different point of view ?

Yes. I speak a lot about the context of this project because at  the project was about Bnei Brak and my cousin and her family, her children, but then, by living in Tel Aviv and taking pictures there, I discovered others things.

Tel Aviv is a very liberal city, there is a huge contrast between the two cities. What was interesting for me was that beyond all of this questions I had in the beginning, I started thinking about the youth. I came to understand the youth as something to embrace.

You embrace a social role. You begin to understand to have a body, what is it to be in a social community, to go outside, to go party. I thought about the connexion with the space, about those moments when you are outside with your friends, in a park or at a party but also I thought about the moments when you are in your room with yourself. I wanted to show what youth is for me. Youth can be the beginning of something. In Tel Aviv, those young pretty girls, going the club, to the park, being naïve and légères. And in Bnei Brak, I wanted to show another aspect, this kind of very specific femininity. Being a young woman there is not something that you can show the world. This engages another reflection about being young. I think I wanted to question the youth in both ways.

When you were in Israel for your project, what were the reactions of the people you met when talking about your project ?

I met a lot of different people when I was in Israel. First, I had those roommates, guys working in the military. They didn’t really understand what I was doing, maybe they thought I was this cute French girl a little bit crazy going through a crisis. I met some people from different artists community in Tel Aviv. When I traveled in Palestine I met also other artists and maybe it was more clear to them what I was doing. The fact that I was there by myself without an artistic residency, engaging my own way was something kind of weird for people.

You know Tel Aviv is very expensive and I was in a city Bnei Brak where I was not sure if I would be able to take pictures. I could have taken big risks; it was not sure that I would come back to France with something. First because they were saying things like “Wow you are doing to do this it is very brave of you but maybe you won’t be able to do anything”. It’s really not so common to meet someone who can take pictures there. It was not so easy at first.

When I first called my family in Israel to tell them I would come to Bnei Brak to do a project, to make a project with them, that it was going to take a few months and all the other informations, my cousin just said “Okay”. At the moment she didn’t have to think about it. It was pretty surprising. I think my family agreed to the project also because they thought I wanted to reconnect with my Jewishness or maybe because they thought I was lost. I was okay with this idea they had about me, the fact that I could potentially reconnect with something I never knew. Why ? Because my Jewish family in France is not very religious and they are not really into celebrations. They thought I was looking for my roots. When I was in Israel, many times I’ve been asked if I wanted to become Jewish or if it was sometimes a burden because of this project. It is not but of course but I think it is completely okay that they considered it before I came.

And to finish answering your question, I wanted to talk about the pictures. When I first showed the photographs at galleries and residencies in Israel, they were really interested because it is not very common to make a project in Bnei Brak with this very intimate point of view. The feedback was very positive and encouraging after my stay there.

As an analog photographer, what are you trying to do in keeping the old ways of taking pictures alive ?

It’s funny because when I decided to use this medium format for travelling (I’m using a MAMIYA 645E) I never thought had the idea that it was an old camera nor and old way to take pictures even if it is. I think and I can’t explain really why but my pictures are different when I’m using an analogic camera or a digital one and I don’t know why.

What was the most important for me was really to take the time to take a picture. Not to rush. I had to take time also because taking photos in Bnei Brak is not something forbidden but it is not common. You have to take your time. If you want a take a picture in the street it’s okay but you have to be present in the space. Slowly. If someone comes up and asks a question, just answer and try to speak with the person even if you don’t speak Hebrew. It’s really something I understood with this project.

Being a photographer is about staying in a place, taking the time. If you want to take a picture, you have to stay, you have to come back. You have to escape from this common idea of time. In Bnei Brak it is uncommon to stay somewhere, to not move, just staying somewhere for a while asks questions because everyone is always busy doing something. There are no coffees or meeting places expect the synagogue. It’s not really well seen to stay in a place for the simple sake of pleasure. As a photographer, it was very interesting to be still in a place, to be patient, take the time, take the time to take the picture. With an analogic camera, the idea that you cannot choose the picture right away was really something that worked with the idea.

Nina Medioni by Julie Hrncirova

Finally, would you say that your work sheds light on what goes on in Israel, that goes in pair with the rising antisemitism in the world ?

I don’t know if I was trying to speak about antisemitism but for sure I wanted to show different territories in the same photographic project. I wanted to question the frontiers that exist between Bnei Brak and Tel Aviv but also between Israel and Palestine. I went several times in Ramallah an Jericho and others cities but it was too short for me to start a project there. There are a few pictures from Palestine but I don’t even know if I will keep them. I went only four days, always going back and forth between Tel Aviv and Bnei Brak. It was actually a bit of a schizophrenic kind of vision at some points even though I was very interested in moving all the time it was a bit too much. It’s actually not possible to deal with all of theses spaces at the same moment.

The main idea was that Israel is composed by frontiers, but those frontiers are questionable and maybe the youth from Bnei Brak and Tel Aviv can share some common views. For sure my goal is to go deeper into those interrogations. I will go back next spring in Israel for a residency in Jerusalem. Jerusalem is now the biggest city in Israel, it’s also at a frontier with Palestine, I will go back in Palestine as well, trying to take more time there. I hope I can manage it.

“The veil”, this project, is still in progress. The goal is to go back several times, visit againmy family in Bnei Brak. I also want to treat this subject through the exploration of frontiers and the worlds that surrounds them. In reality, Bnei Brak does not exist without Tel Aviv, without this proposition of a liberal city. For example, I’ll go in Jerusalem to see a cousin next year. He left Bnei Brak to go live in Jerusalem. I want to follow him in his very new and different life that he has now. I want to know how he is still connected to Bnei Brak.

Nina Medioni by Julie Hrncirova

The world of photography has been openly more open to highlight the work of male photographers but things are changing. When did you notice this reality and what kind of initiatives do you see changing this status quo ?

I think there are more and more initiatives that aim at highlighting the work of female photographers. It’s great but I think in photography and especially when you think about art, the discussion about the male gaze really matters. I think photography is still really influenced by it. For example, when I first entered the school of photography in Arles, there was only one teacher who was a woman and then only men. It was really the cliché we expect in the world of photography.

I don’t know how to say but I remember when I entered my first class there were like 20 girls and 5 boys but on 8 teachers, only one was a woman… so… those initiatives come at a moment when it’s needed because photography is still ruled by men. If you look at the selection at photography festivals, you will see mostly males. Since two or three years now, directors of photography festivals have been warned and asked to invite more women in order to rebalance the representations.

Things are changing slowly but it is not obvious. I don’t want to complain as a photographer now because in the 80s or before, it was harder then to work as a woman so I’m really thankful for this energy of change. One thing I want to add is that sometimes I’m worried that this movement towards most spaces to show women’s work is fashionable, like a trend for the next three or four years and then they will just disappear. I’m saying this because when I came back I met several people in galleries, museums and a woman said to me “It’s really great you’re a woman, it’s a good time to show your work and it would be even better if you came from another minority, even better if you were a lesbian”. I thought “she can’t be serious” but she was.

It is a real issue, I don’t want to speak about it lightly. It’s something that matters and even if there are great initiatives I want to participate in this change and I want to take the time to observe the changes coming. For now, nothing is sure on how this reality will evolve so… Let’s see. Let’s see.

 Thank you friend !


More Nina Medioni here

By Alizée Pichot from PEACH