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Philip-Lorca diCorcia, Gerald Hughes (aka Savage Fantasy)
Gerald Hughes (aka Savage Fantasy); about 25 years old; Southern California; $50, 1990-92Photography Philip-Lorca diCorcia, image courtesy of the artist and David Zwirner Gallery

Hustling on the streets of Hollywood in the 90s

Photographer Philip-Lorca diCorcia on working the angles with Hollywood’s male hustlers – and the story behind a man named Savage Fantasy

Taken from the February 2011 issue of Dazed, as part of the Last Shot archive series

The seedier side of Santa Monica Boulevard was the trawling ground for Philip-Lorca diCorcia’s “Hustler” series. At first he was wary of photographing the men he approached – not all of whom were prostitutes to begin with – on the street, not knowing how the police would react. Working in the gap between documentary and choreographed scenes, diCorcia would rent motel rooms as a safer setting to photograph some of the hustlers, offering an ambiguous plot to their stories.

With this image of Gerald Hughes (street name Savage Fantasy), you might assume that diCorcia had spent a long time in front of the TV set attempting to capture both men with their eyes closed. You’d be wrong. What is intentional, however, is the backlighting of Gerald’s reflected figure, as he appears to emerge from another, brighter realm, much like those who populate the world of television – and indeed Hollywood.

“I had nothing to do with Gerald’s self-image. He was standing in the street in Speedos with keys dangling from them and his face painted blue. For that project, the subjects were rarely interested in cooperating; they just wanted to get paid. I don’t think they really believed that all I wanted was to take their photograph. Gerald was quite friendly, and he was more than happy, after doing one image, to go on and try another one. There was something of a Baby Huey quality to that guy. He really was a very gentle person. He spent half his day doing push-ups and the other half smoking pot, and in between he had his hustle. I met him a year later and I noticed his front teeth were missing. He had gained weight. He said he had been in jail. He was a wreck. I took a photograph of him against a wall, but I don’t think I’ve ever shown that image.

“For that project, the subjects were rarely interested in cooperating; they just wanted to get paid. I don’t think they really believed that all I wanted was to take their photograph” – Philip-Lorca diCorcia

A great number of hustlers that I photographed said that they lived from motel to motel, which cost $35 or $40 a night for the cheapest ones.

I wanted to give them the street price for a blow-job, $25. Sometimes they would say no. That money was notated (as part of the photograph’s titles) partly because it came from a grant given to me by the National Endowment of the Arts (NEA) which had a stipulation that nothing would be done that would contradict commonly held moral values. It was the only year that they had that stipulation and it was backed by Jesse Helms, the guy who went off on the NEA for supporting Robert Mapplethorpe and Andres Serrano. I thought I was being a smartass by applying trickledown economics to this particular situation. You know – give the money to me and eventually it will find its way to the lowest on a social scale.

I focused on men because, remembering the fact that it was in Hollywood, I considered the kind of role-playing that is involved with male hustlers to be a little more varied. It was also the HIV/ Aids period. My brother was gay and had died of Aids in 1989, so this was just the year after. It kind of made sense. There was something conceptually perfect about the whole idea and the indexing of these people – them being products in a way, involving self-promotion as an image, which fits so well with Hollywood.” 

See more of diCorcia’s work below: