Txema Salvans’ clandestine photos of sex workers waiting for clients on the side of Spanish highways

Txema Salvans’ book, The Waiting Game (published last year by RM), is a series of photographs of sex workers waiting for clients on the margins of highways in contemporary Spain.

The images are both formal and astonishingly relaxed, and it is this mix that has impressed Martin Parr, who wrote the introduction to the book and nominated Salvans for our Ones to Watch issue in January 2014.

A typical image shows a woman waiting for a client in the middle of a rural crossroads under a hazy, sun-seared sky. Orderly lines of trees stretch off on each side, but they are dusty, too, like the woman who stares straight down the road towards something we don’t see – the client.

The places where the women sit play a major role but, like the client, the places where they perform their sex acts are missing.

This absence gives the project much of its power – a prurient power, as is the nature of most projects on prostitution, but a power nonetheless.

It’s the same power apparent in Mishka Henner’s No Man’s Land, but where Henner’s pictures were screengrabs from Google Street View, with the faces of the women blurred out, Salvans’ are large format shots that make every detail visible.

“Prostitutes do not welcome being photographed, and Salvans employed a most cunning deception to help him get access to his models,” explains Parr in his introduction. “Posing as a surveyor, working with an assistant holding a surveyor’s pole, and wearing the all-important hi-vis jacket, he slowly encroached on the prostitutes’ territory.

“The models were almost entirely oblivious to the fact that they were an essential part of the photographs.  He could hardly believe this worked so well.”

Parr sees Salvans as part of a new generation of Spanish photographers that includes Ricardo Cases, Cristina de Middel and Oscar Monzón, whose respective photobooks of the past few years have made a huge impact on the international photography scene.

“It’s very exciting to see this new energy and direction,” says Parr. “And this wonderful set of photographs from Salvans makes a most positive contribution to a developing trend.”

Find more of Txema’s work here.

First published in the January 2014 issue. You can buy it here.