Women in sexual professions have always distinguished themselves from other women, from the mores of the time, by pushing the boundaries of style. The most celebrated concubines and courtesans in history set the trends in their respective courts. The great dames of burlesque — Sally Rand, Gypsy Rose Lee — boasted a signature style on- and offstage, reflecting broader-than-life personalities.
Given that photography was still an emerging technology, an emerging creative medium, when these “working girls” posed for William Goldman in the 1890s at a Reading, Pennsylvania brothel, the entire exercise transcends their initial business liaison. The instantaneous concept of click-and-shoot was still decades away. To be photographed required sitting very still. The women featured in Goldman’s collection obviously caught his eye. Not just anyone is asked to be the subject of artistic documentation.