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So much of commerce now is blind: online shopping, tech support in Bangalore. We hope there is a person at the other end of the transaction, but it could be a machine; often the machine doesn’t seem very well programmed. The phone-sex industry, though, thrives on being faceless and intensely personal at the same time.

Phillip Toledano’s new book Phone Sex (July 2008, Twin Palms) takes us into the boudoirs of nearly 30 phone-sex operators so we see their faces and also hear their stories—each operator gives his or her take on the business.

 

Phillip Toledano lives and works in New York City. All photos © Phillip Toledano, courtesy of the artist, all rights reserved.

The Morning News:

So how did the series begin?

Phillip Toledano:

I’d been thinking about the things in society that are in plain sight, but still remain hidden.

TMN:

What surprises appeared?

PT:

How many [of these] people really loved what they did, and for so many reasons: because they felt they were helping people; because they had discovered things about themselves, sexually or otherwise; because it was often a two-way street. Also, how much imagination you need to be a good operator, and how good you have to be at figuring out what someone wants. And finally, how it’s a job that reaches across the entire socio-economic strata.

TMN:

How did the operators respond to you coming into their workspaces (which, presumably, are fairly intimate zones)?

PT:

They were fine with it. We’d spent several weeks emailing beforehand, so I wasn’t a completely unknown quantity. Plus, I always mentioned that if they wanted to have someone there, that was completely OK.

TMN:

Any desire to make portraits of those who call phone-sex lines?

PT:

No, that’s it for phone sex for me.

TMN:

What are you working on now?

PT:

Two projects. One is an installation project that has nothing to do with photography. It’s called “America the Gift Shop” and the premise is: If American foreign policy had a gift shop, what would it sell?

The other is a personal photo project about my father and me. My mum died a year ago, and he’s 98, so I’m trying to memorize as much as possible.

biopic

Rosecrans Baldwin is the editor of The Morning News, which he co-founded with publisher Andrew Womack in 1999. He is the author of You Lost Me There and Paris, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down. His next novel is forthcoming from Farrar, Straus and Giroux. More information can be found at his website. More by Rosecrans Baldwin