The Other End of the 900 Line

Phone sex operators, courtesy of the author and Twin Palms Publishing.


Ever bother to imagine the faces of those people who talk dirty for a living? Who are they, anyway? Phone Sex, photographer Phillip Toledano’s new exploration of phone-sex operators, takes a peek. Not just art, it’s a work of cultural anthropology: in addition to portraits of 26 of these mystery-shrouded professionals, the book includes quasi-poetic explanations, in their own words, of what they do; example: “I breathe life into the fantasy,/ I carve the doll out of flesh.”





Toledano—whose previous book, Bankrupt, similarly used text and images to examine the economy—tracked down New York-based operators (some male, though mostly female) through Craigslist and referrals. He photographed them in their homes and asked them to email him about their work. One of the book’s subjects details the time she indulged a caller’s “scat fetish,” while another recalls telling a giddy client what she’d do to his sweetheart’s Mazda: “I’d slowly turn around in a circle/ with it held up in the air,/ with your girlfriend screaming/ in the front seat.”


Toledano said he was surprised to find how much skill the job requires. “The assumption is that it’s just some woman sitting around not putting much thought into it,” he said. “But what’s amazing to me is how mentally agile you’ve got to be. You’ve got to create this whole world for someone really quickly, and you’ve got to keep it interesting. You’ve got to have a sense of the human psyche.”


Sometimes phone-sex operators truly go above and beyond, he added. Take the one who once got a desperate call from a married client-from the sperm-collection room of a fertility clinic. “She was sort of proud she’d been able to help him have a child.”

Phone Sex, published by Twin Palms, hits bookshelves December 8. The International Center of Photography will host a signing on December 12. Toledano said he’d sent invitations to subjects, but had no idea if they would attend.