A film and portrait series honoring the candid, courageous stories of sex workers in Cartagena, Colombia.

After completing a commissioned job in Bogotá, photographer Brian Boulos travelled to Cartagena on the recommendation of a friend and was immediately captivated by the beauty and the vibrancy of the historic coastal city. While he was aware that sex work was legal in Colombia, he was taken aback by the degree of its integration into Cartagena specifically. Congregating under the 17th century landmark ‘La Torre del Reloj,’ sex workers mostly blended in with the crowd, wearing inconspicuous, everyday clothing. “Most are doing this work out of desperation and necessity, but at the same time on their own accord,” Boulos said.

Liz, 18. Barranquilla, Colombia.

He first spoke with Ana Sofía, a woman from Venezuela, who moved to Colombia in order to provide for her ailing mother. Struck by her resilience in the midst of accruing difficulties, the idea for his photographic portrait series and documentary short—Chicas del Reloj (‘Girls of the Clock’)—emerged. As time passed, Boulos was introduced to other women through ‘referrals,’ explaining that past women he worked with “would tell their friends and introduce me, or have them write to me and send their photos.” He was forthright regarding compensation and intention, effectively establishing trust from the get go. Boulos soon discovered that, like Ana Sofía, nearly all the women he met were from Venezuela. “Most had fled Venezuela simply because there is virtually no way for them to make money there,” he said.

Through his project, he sought to capture the individual character of each woman, situating them in the “stark straightforwardness” of his studio—providing a space for them to exist as their full, nuanced selves. The choice to shoot them nude stemmed not from an impulse towards provocation; rather, he reasoned that “without their clothing, the viewer has nothing to base assumptions on, except maybe some scars, tattoos, or bruises.” It is something of a cliché to remark upon the strength found within vulnerability, but—as it goes—within cliché resides truth. The women Boulos features are strong and they are vulnerable, and that is neither because of nor in spite of their occupation. Sex work is merely a facet of their being; they are strong and vulnerable because of who they are comprehensively.

Support the ‘Chicas del Reloj’ project on Kickstarter here.

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