By Raven Bowen

Camille Melissa

Q: So, what do you do?
A:  I’m an award winning and published commercial Photographer (mainly specializing in quirky documentary wedding and children’s photography)  I’m also a full service Sex Worker and I’m a Visual Activist interested in using photography to challenge the victim centered nature of sex worker imagery and how photography is instrumental in the prohibitionist war against sex worker through Whoretography which is a sex work activist & photobook Publishing Platform that sits at the intersection of imagery, technologies, society & the sex worker rights movement.

I’m challenging the prevailing ideology of sex-work, I want to present to the viewer of my work, an alternative perception of the industry and participants –  In a nutshell, I want to shatter the gaze on the current visual landscape of sex work to re shape the political landscape.

I have been accepted into a PhD that starts in January so think it is time to call it a day on sex work and return to full time photography work!

Q: And your favourite colour?
A:  Brink Pink, what can I say! I have happily succumbed to the genderisation of children who were raised in the 70 and 80s. It really compliments my freckles and golden-brown hair.  The only wedding dress I bought was a shade of pink.

Q: What are you most proud of?
A:
 Getting into a PhD program. It is the 40th anniversary of my father’s death this year, and I guess this is a wonderful way to honour his life and that losing a parent as a two-year-old did not throw me off the rails (too much). I feel like it has been what I have been working towards all these years, it brings together the photography, sex work, travel and criminal justice and I most proud of the fact that I can use my passion about photography to make a difference and that I’m determined to see this through to the end.

Q: What drew you to the sex industry?
A:
 
Who ever said money cannot buy you happiness never grew up on the poverty line or watched their mother pay for Christmas dinner with medicare rebate cheques. When you grow up poor you realise that money is about choice, freedom, happiness, peace of mind, security and comfort. That’s what drew me to the sex industry, whilst sex work has never been my only source of income, it’s a vital income that allows me to have a balanced life and not feel financially insecure like the environment I was raised in.

Q: The last thing you laughed about?
A: My mother lives in a RSL retirement village and she tells the funniest tales. This place is like a carry-on retirement village.  I have laughed so much but her recent story had me in tears. It’s a tale about a 95-year-old resident everyone thought was dead because someone peaked in through his window and saw him mouth open, slumped on his chair, sitting there in his undies. So, the whole village congregated around this man’s apartment, and the residents concluded that he must be dead, called the police. They broke in expecting to cart out a dead body but the old bloke was just passed out drunk at 11am on a Tuesday morning and was pissed off that they thought he was dead!

Q: What’s your favorite food? 
A: 
Chocolate. Anything and everything chocolate.  I’d give up men for chocolate if I had too.

Q: Your current project or pursuit?
A: 
On a personal note, I’m archiving and digitizing my Dad’s photographs, negatives and transparencies from his service Malaya & Vietnam 1963 – 1968 and this includes vintage photographs of Honk Kong.  There are 1000’s of photographs and I hope to have this finished within 3 months before I return to London. On the Whoretography front, I’m working a designing the cover of an academic book on sex work. It will see me journey to Adelaide and go though an archive of photographs to find the right image for the cover, it’s a collaboration.

Q: What’s your biggest regret?
A:
Not spending as much time in Australia as I should. I have only been in Australia for about 3 weeks in the last 7 years.  Life has a way of getting in the way of long haul flights. I’ve just come home for the Australian summer and I found my Mum’s bucket list the other day, and right on the top of that list was “to see Cam one last time” It was like a knife to the heart reading that.  It is an absolute curse to love two countries, to want to be on the other side of the world as more than just a tourist. It’s one thing to visit a country, it’s another thing entirely to live amongst its people.  It’s a constant battle in your heart and mind as to where you want to be, where you should be.

Q: Facebook or Twitter? 
A:
Twitter for work, as a platform to hustle for change and as a brilliant form of marketing but for real and honest connections with friends and family, then it’s Facebook.

Q: What challenges you the most about your sex work and related work? 
A: The constant battle about having to guard your privacy as a sex worker and the need to promote your work as an activist, I have never felt comfortable with the level of attention I get from men online and, from some clients who simply MUST know everything about you. I have faced a lot of stigma and had some terrible things done to be because I’m a sex worker from being made homeless to being told my baby deserved to die because I was a prostitute to loosing my photography business and you ALWAYS live in fear that the next terrible thing is about to happen.  I have never been comfortable with how interesting men find me to be and I think that is just the allure of sex work, being a sex worker someone how makes you fascinating as a woman which is ironic as I find the daily hustle of sex work boring (not, however the interaction with my clients)  I’m not ashamed of my work as a sex worker, but that does not mean my other life is up for discussion and dissection but it’s a fine line to tread especially since I have morphed my words of photography and sex work into one.  The biggest challenge I face for the sex work activism is funding, I have found social media to be a mixed blessing, I ask for help with funding and I get flooded with requests from men asking out to talk about photography in general, my desire to take this project mainstream apparently makes me more desirable to date, men seem to find me more fascinating than the project, and I think this is where my experience as a sex worker overshadows my work.  It is why, as soon as I start my PhD that I will retire as a sex worker.

Q: Favorite Movie? 
A:  Romanzo Criminale. It’s an Italian film about the Banda Della Magliana crime gang in the 1970s to the 1990s. It’s a difficult and violent watch but if you can get passed the subtitles, the film is ultimately about loyalty, friendship and love. I’m a huge fan of the actress that plays Patrizia, Anna Mouglalis.  Patrizia is by far the best representation of a prostitute in the contemporary film, she is a complex character.  The visuals of this film are stunning.

Q: And the last time you cried?
A:
When I got the call to say I had been offered a place in a PhD program.

Q: Cat or dog person?
A:
Cat, without a doubt!  I used to have a cat called Dickie Greenleaf and she’d look at us like she knew being a cat was beneath her. What’s not to love about a creature that hops into your cupboard at night and knocks the glasses off the just for the pure joy of it.

Q:  Who understands you?
A:
My friend Bertie.  He started out as a sex work client, who morphed into an affair, a brief partner and parent, now is my closest friend.  He is the only one who knows everything, all aspects of me. He knows where all the skeletons are buried.

Q: What’s the last book or article you read?
A:
 A book about the life and work of Italian photographer, Tina Modotti by Margaret Hooks

Q: Childhood Fear?
A:
Ha!  When you grow up in rural Australia on a farm you don’t really have any fears because you have been raised with things that can kill you. That’s what I find so quaint about England, there is nothing there that can kill you. Raised being told to stamp your feet in long grass to scare the snakes, only swim to knee level in case of sharks.  My early years where of snakes showing up on your doorstep, dogs biting the backs of the chickens necks off and the chickens still running around, dogs chewing on calf afterbirth, to guinea pigs being murdered by rogue possums, I got a guinea pig who I named GP for my 5th birthday and he lasted one night. Pet rabbits would be found frozen solid from fright, having to put an ice cream bucket on your head to avoid the magpies whilst playing outside, to getting stuck in the damn up to your waist in mud. I once fell in the pit where the farmer washed all the waste from the milking shed, you just pick yourself up and get yourself out.  I was attacked by a rooster when I was 4 and we had that rooster for dinner that night. My sister was chased by an Emu once and I remember just screaming at her, to drop the orange.  We used to step in freshly down cow pats bare footed and put daisies in the cow pats and then throw them as frisbees. My older sisters used to squish me under the hay bales, I had a fear of suffocating – which may explain why I excelled at little athletic, had to learn to out run my sisters.

Q: What did your last text say?
A:
‘I apologise for using photography with questionable intent when we were teenagers. I really can’t wait to see you again.’

Q: One thing that your work or existence is aimed to do for the sex industry?
A: My cyber ethnographic work is about stopping the over-simplification of the lives of sex workers, and to challenge current imagery that encourages the sense that the only way of interpreting their lives is to see them as ripe for ‘rescue.’  Through Whoretography, I’m hoping that a new interpretation of sex work imagery that will help to change the visual landscape that informs political views that rob so many sex workers of autonomy.

Q: The meaning of life in one word?
A: 
Interconnections

Q: The last thing you Googled?
A:  How to get to Wheelershill from Mentone.

Q: What do you want to be when you grow up?
A: 
Without a doubt, a police detective.  I really wanted to follow in my father’s footsteps but I could not do that to my mother as he was killed whilst on duty when I was a baby and that was enough of a sacrifice my mother should have to endure in the name of working for the state.  I remember Mum and I used to have these raging arguments when I was a kid as she’d say being a cop was not a job for a woman.  I did go through the entrance tests/exams but did not tell my mother and ended up working in Criminal Justice for many years.

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