Sprueth Magers Gallery Berlin/ London opens at Berlin’s Gallery Weekend (02-04 May) with a show of Philip-Lorca di  Corcia’s series Hustlers. In the early 1990s, Philip-Lorca diCorcia made five trips to Los Angeles, where he drove along Santa Monica Boulevard and nearby neighborhoods on the lookout for male prostitutes.

The artist would then strike a deal: he offered each prostitute his normal rate, asking only to take their photograph. The resulting series, was both a breakthrough for the artist and a key episode in the now familiar mode of photography that occupies a semi-fictive space between street and stage.

The historical specificity and taxonomic impulse of the project are declared in the title of each photograph: the subject is identified by his name, age, place of birth, and the money he received for agreeing to pose.

Philip-Lorca diCorcia predetermined each setting, posing his assistant to prepare the lighting and set up before returning with a man to make the final photograph. Hotel rooms, parking lots, curbs, cafes, backyards and bus stops all offer potential backdrops for the pictures.

Chris, 28 years old, Los Angeles, California, $30 (1990-92), shows a man seated on an elevated motel walkway, the metal guardrails receding into space, his arms reaching up to clutch the highest rail. He might be lost in thought, yet the picture also conveys a sense of entrapment.

Tim, 27 years old, Orange County, California, $30 (1990-92) depicts a shirtless man bathed in warm light, gingerly approaching an open door as if he couldn’t quite tell whether it offered an escape or an alluring dead-end. The subjects convey a range of emotions or attitudes, from dignified beauty to desperation, lending poignancy to the elegiac mood of the series.

Conceived amid the AIDS crisis and during the ‘culture wars’ of the early 1990s, an era fuelled by the censorious rhetoric of figures such as Jesse Helms, the photographs come out of a particularly tense historical moment. In 1989, diCorcia received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, and this money allowed him to embark on the Hustlers project, not to mention pay the prostitutes in the photographs.

“None of these guys were free”, writes diCorcia. “They charged for their services, for a faked sense of what passes for intimacy in the realm they left behind. They barely found a place to sleep or get high afterwards, but they accomplished the most sublime trade, their artistry: Nothing for Nothing. That’s what was so perfect for me. It summed it all up.”

Philp-Lorca diCorcia
Sprueth Magers Gallery
2 May – 28 June 2014