Go behind the Leica lens with photographers, Victory Tischler-Blue & Al Satterwhite, in separate tales that share the wild yet delicate side of life with images selected from their respective body of work. “WILD DOGS” by Victory Tischler-Blue and “The Cozumel Diary – Hunter Thompson in Mexico” by Al Satterwhite will be on view at Leica Gallery Los Angeles until April 13, 2020.
Q. Victory, tell us about the “Wild Dogs” and the meaning behind your story.
A. Victory: WILD DOGS is a dark, edgy photo and documentary motion series revolving around a traditional Nevada brothel, the individual stories of the women who work there, and the culture that surrounds and supports both. The imagery is raw, elegant, hard-core, and emotionally charged; and chronicles the day-to-day life of female sex workers who refer to themselves as “courtesans” – an old fashion euphemism for an elite prostitute who, through the art of refined sensual seduction provides flesh and fantasy for the clients they serve.
The series is set deep in the Nevada desert; far beyond the seediness of the Las Vegas Strip; miles down long, lonely stretches of vanishing point highways – way out past the places where the wild horses roam. The location is untamed and feral – providing a stark backdrop for the delicate balance of life on the fringe, which comes at a cost in a profession as old as time itself.
Q. On the contrary, Al, your series “The Cozumel Diary” has a lighter tone yet still exhibits a sense of wild adventures and the unknown. Tell us about your body of work.
A. Al: It was a Playboy magazine assignment. Hunter requested that I be on assignment with him since we were friends; we did the interview in Cozumel, Mexico because Hunter wanted somewhere warm out of the snow at his home base in Aspen. And Cozumel was pretty low key in those days, mostly frequented by scuba divers for the crystal clear waters surrounding the island.
Although this was originally an assignment, many years later I realized it would make an interesting book and show; there are to this day many Hunter Thompson fans who have read and cherished his books. Leica has copies of my limited book, “The Cozumel Diary”, available for purchase; there were only 800 numbered and signed copies printed, with fewer than 100 still remaining.
Q. Victory, what prompted your interest in documenting the stories of the courtesans?
A. Victory: As an independent film producer/director, I’m always drawn to dark dramatic subject matter and a strange, disjointed version of reality, where what appears to be isn’t always as it seems. For me, the creative potential of those two elements, combined with the remote and desolate location of the brothel – across the obligatory train tracks, on the outskirts of a small town that had already died a slow, suffocating death when the railroad was replaced by the interstate – was too good an opportunity to pass up. I approached this project as I would a feature film. I identified my characters, and their roles, and began to document the narratives that unfolded in front me, as I saw and felt them.
There are approximately 20 legal brothels in the State of Nevada and, as far as I know, this is the only one both owned and operated by a woman. I had met the Madam there a couple of years earlier and stayed in touch her, in the hope that one day I could photograph life inside the brothel.
Q. What challenges did you encounter as you were capturing the raw narratives of your subjects?
A. Victory: Over the eight months I was shooting there, the two biggest were gaining the kind of behind-the-scenes access to the brothel that would allow me to document it in-depth and also earning the trust of the ladies who worked there. Both took a lot of time and patience, and a constant mantra ran through my head: “stay steady – no sudden moves”. A lot of people ask me what it‘s like on the ‘inside’ – so here’s how it all went down:
When we first arrived at the brothel, my assistant Chris and I were greeted by the Madam and she brought us into a bar area. Once we were settled in, she rang a bell that sounded throughout the building. Almost immediately, several girls appeared in beautiful, sexy lingerie and heels, lined up in front of us and introduced themselves. We were each told to choose a girl. I chose “Bobbie”, an older blonde with massive G-cups and a sexy smile. She took me by the hand and led me down a darkened hallway. Our first stop was the ATM machine, the next stop was the dungeon – Bobbie’s domain. After that, we ended up in the “negotiation” room, where Bobbie engaged me in a discussion about my hopes and dreams. From there, she led me back into her dungeon… and the rest was captured on film.
I don’t think any young girl dreams of becoming a sex worker when they grow up – but life is unpredictable and, for some of the ladies who have pursued that journey, trust is a huge issue. I’m beyond grateful they gave me the benefit of the doubt; not only inviting me into their world, but allowing me to document it in its rawest, most intimate form. What a gift!
Q. That’s an incredibly intense encounter; I can’t imagine the thoughts rushing through your mind at that point. Al, what kind of challenges did you experience while you were on assignment?
A. Al: The most challenging yet rewarding part of this experience would be trying to keep up with Hunter, a non-stop entertaining writer with an unstoppable curiosity for getting into ’trouble’ – sometimes, I felt like I was chaperoning a 6 year old, but he was an incredibly interesting and photographable character…. in a good way.
Q. Out of all the dozens of images you made from Hunter at that moment, what is the image that stands out to you the most?
A. Al: It’s difficult to select only one image out of a series; the signature piece is the close-up portrait with the very dark sunglasses – that’s Hunter; I also like the image of him sitting on the beach with a smile, that’s a different side of Hunter.
Q. Victory, which image from your series stood out to you the most?
A. Victory: The image that affected me the most is one I shot of Bobbie that didn’t make it into the WILD DOGS show. We were outside, and she was standing in a field of tall grass behind the brothel wearing faded blue jeans, a tight white top and bunny ears. I asked her what her life-goals were and without missing a beat told me that she just wanted to be “the best she could be…”. Her answer came quick and straight from the heart. What more could anyone ask for?
Q. That must’ve been a beautiful moment to capture. We’ll end this interview with one last question. What photographers have influenced you on your visual journey?
A. Al: I have been inspired by the great ‘masters’ from the 60-70s- Avedon, Halsman, Karsh for their strong B&W portraiture; Pete Turner for his incredible use of color, Ernst Haas for his subtle use of color.
Q. What photographers inspire you, Victory?
A. Victory: I’m inspired by so many photographers that it’s really hard to pinpoint one, but on the top of the list is Helmut Newton. I was in my late teens when I first flipped through Helmut Newton’s White Women book and was so taken by the erotic imagery and locations.
I also love Robert Frank – especially the work he shot for the Rolling Stones / Exile On Main Street album. When that album was released, I had never seen photography like that and it blew my mind. I sat in my bedroom listening to that double album and stared at the cover, liner notes and everything else that came inside for years. I was obsessed. I still am.
About “Wild Dogs” by Victory Tischler-Blue
“Wild Dogs” is a documentary photographic series depicting the day-to-day life of old school courtesan’s – soul survivors who, through the world of sensual services, provide flesh and fantasy for the clients they serve. “It’s 95% therapy and 5% sex,” explains the Madam who owns the brothel. “The ladies are not only schooled in the art of seduction, but also know how to listen with compassion and connect with an open heart. There are a lot of lonely souls out there and we all need a friend”.
“There’s a time warp deep in the Nevada desert; far beyond the seediness of the Las Vegas Strip; miles down long, lonely stretches of vanishing point highways – way out past the places where the wild horses roam. It seems like all roads lead to Wells and in that small Nevada town, across the obligatory train tracks stands Bella’s Hacienda Ranch – an old school brothel with a matchbook tagline that proudly boasts, ‘If it swells in Wells, it stays in Wells…’”. – Victory Tischler-Blue
About “The Cozumel Diary – Hunter Thompson in Mexico” by Al Satterwhite
Hunter and Al became fast friends in the early 70’s when they met while each were covering the 1972 Republican Convention for different magazines. When Playboy Magazine decided to interview Hunter in Cozumel, Mexico Hunter asked Playboy to send Al as the story photographer. After the initial interview, Hunter wanted to hang out in Cozumel and convinced Al to stay a few extra days, not that he needed much convincing.The quest to visit every island bar was their sole agenda. After Cozumel Hunter and Al remained friends, often visiting one another. Satterwhite’s collection of images from their time in Cozumel, along with stories of their adventures in Florida including when Hunter would come down to Miami to write about President Nixon, are presented here.
“The edge… There is no honest way to explain it because the only people who really know where it is are the ones who have gone over…” – Hunter S. Thompson
For more information on the exhibition, visit Leica Gallery Los Angeles here.