Before travelling to Nevada, photographer Marc McAndrews had never been to a strip club, let alone a brothel. Now, he’s been to every single one in the state.
Over the course of five years, McAndrews made regular trips to Nevada’s legal brothels, staying anywhere from a week to a month each time. He stayed in bedrooms in the houses, shared a bathroom with the working girls, and saw the world that no one — except those that work at the brothels — see.
“It’s a different experience when you wake up in the morning and have to pass the cereal and the milk to your subject. It changes the relationship,” explains McAndrews. “People’s guards go down and they become more at ease. They start to let you see their world.”
McAndrews shared some photos from his trips inside the brothels with us (you can see more photos and amazing stories in his book, “Nevada Rose“).
When McAndrews began shooting Nevada's brothels, he expected to find a seedy place, filled with drugs. What he found, at places like the Wild Horse Ranch (shown here from afar), was something completely different.
He started by going to Moonlite Bunny Ranch, which was made famous by HBO's Cathouse series. When he first asked about photographing, the women didn't believe him, thinking that he was just a nervous customer. He was eventually turned down.
After being turned down by several other brothels in the Carson City area, one of the prostitutes recommended that he try a smaller town like Elko or Ely, where proprietors might be more friendly.
In Elko, he had his first luck at a 'parlor brothel.' According to McAndrews, there are 'parlor brothels,' (like the Old Bridge Ranch shown here) where its more like entering a bar, and 'lineup brothels,' where as soon as you walk in, women lineup for the customer to pick a woman.
According to McAndrews, there are also 'city houses,' which cater to those wanting a slicker, party-going atmosphere, and 'country houses,' which are quieter and more friendly.
This photograph of Carli at Mona's Ranch in Elko was one of the first shots he took during the project. He stayed at Mona's for five nights and shared a bathroom with the working girls.
McAndrews mostly photographed in the morning and afternoons when the brothels were quiet. Because he was shooting with a large-format camera on a tripod, he would have to pack up his gear when guests arrived, so as not spook them.
Most of Nevada's brothels are in places far outside of the cities and zoned into specific areas. Often many will occupy the same parking lot.
The easy stereotypes that McAndrews expected (drug users, women without families) existed, but were not as prevalent as he expected.
One woman that McAndrews met is a maths teacher in Minnesota during the school year. On her summer breaks, she works at the Nevada brothels because it is a turn-on for her. (He wouldn't say which girl was the teacher.)
The business is often a family affair. At Sharon's Bar and Brothel in Carlin, 'Whorehouse' Charlie and his mum, 'Miss Pat' run the business together.
Some customers were ok with being photographed. Here, Brett sits with his lady-for-the-night, Dimon, at the Stardust Ranch in Ely.
The final brothel he had to get access to was the Moonlite Bunny Ranch. He had to convince owner Dennis Hof (center), who owns three other brothels, that it was a good idea.
McAndrews told Hoff that the project was an artistic documentation of the community, not a generic travel guide to the brothels. Hoff was eventually convinced by his good friend, publisher and radio host Judith Reagan, who thought McAndrews' project was important.
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