William I. Goldman’s “Working Girls” Photo Exhibit Debuts at San Francisco’s Serge Sorokko Gallery


Almost 15 years ago, art historian and curator Robert Flynn Johnson attended a vintage paper fair in Concord, California and came across a series bordello scenes shot by photographer William I. Goldman. Enchanted with the Degas-like captures, Johnson shared the shots with San Francisco gallery owners Serge and Tatiana Sorokko. The duo then went on to purchase a large portion of the collection, and now 25 of those stunning, racy, raw, and rare photos are making their deut at the Serge Sorokko Gallery in onjunction with the release of Johnson’s recently published book of the same name: Working Girls.

The photos on display from November 15 through December 9 are truly one-of-a-kind — in fact, no negatives are known to exist. The collection includes 20 never-before-seen images and five images featured in Johnson’s book, all of which capture Goldman’s deep appreciation and understanding for his subjects: women who, circa 1892, lived and worked at an upscale brothel in Reading, Pennsylvania.

“Robert is a talented author, brilliant curator and a dear friend,” Sorokko said in a statement. “When he reached out to me almost 15 years ago regarding these striking photographs of unnamed women, I knew immediately he must have come across something extraordinary. At the time, our knowledge about the pieces was minimal – what we saw were captivating, raw and provocative images that captured the authenticity of these women’s everyday lives. After more than a decade of exhaustive research executed by Robert, it was then that we confirmed our earlier impression of the uniqueness and artistic and historical significance of the photographs. Providing glimpses of modernism and insights into the culture, sociology and fashion of the times, I am proud to debut them to the world at Serge Sorokko Gallery.”

As a curator emeritus of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco where he worked for 32 years, Johnson used Goldman’s photos to examine their in the history of photography. His book also includes essays from feminist figures like Ruth Rosen and Dennita Sewell who provide some crucial historical and sociological context. Burlesque dancer Dita Von Teese penned the forward, dissecting the art of seduction and performance of the specific era depicted in Goldman’s photos.

The Serge Sorokko Gallery is located at 345 Sutter Street in San Francisco. Working Girls: An American Brothel, Circa 1892 will run from November 15 – December 9, 2018.

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