This quote from Dostoevsky (“The Possessed”) may be a fair summation of Scot Sothern’s book, Curb Service. But first, a disclaimer: I googled his name and found many of his images and they’re incredibly good! I loved the photos I found online. He’s genuinely “an artist” in every sense of the word, with something to say through his pictures. His idea to take photos of prostitutes in Los Angeles is ingenious, and daring. He really captures a gritty side of urban reality, photos that can stand alongside innovative photographers like Winogrand, Maier and Frank, for example. If for no other reason than that, I recommend this book as a gateway to discover his other work, his photographs. (I haven’t read anything else he wrote, so I can’t say anything about it one way or the other.)
Unfortunately, there’s a downside to “Curb Service”, at least if you need an excuse for reading. In the first place, it was disappointing there weren’t many photos. They’re small newspaper-quality, which isn’t good; but it’s cheap. The blackout-bars that cover the eyes, I suppose to hide the “real” identities of the girls, seem inexplicable. I saw the same photos online without any problem and without the bars. The bars-across-the-eyes is something I’d expect to find on Facebook which shows plenty of eyes but no tits; Sothern’s book shows no eyes but plenty of tits! Go figure. In the second place, although I liked the writing in spots, it may have been funny, but it was never compelling. Stories about his son, his ex-wife, or anything having to do with children, play dates and families were simply boring to me and I skipped over them; these parts didn’t fit in with the nasty, dark noir of prostitutes and drugs. Finally, in the third place, the book’s individual chapters having good parts mixed in with useless information notwithstanding, I found myself drifting away, checking my phone and email as I tried to read.
About halfway through the book I started scanning past descriptions of office equipment, the conditions of cars that were probably illegal to drive, details about his son, his ex-wife, his medical symptoms, his work history etc. -- work that was barely interesting enough to keep his own attention how could it be expected to keep my attention? It didn’t. I jumped ahead to spots about picking up prostitutes and escorts to take their pictures. I figured since there weren’t enough photos in the book to be interesting, maybe the back-stories about the girls would make up for it. Well, not so much.
There was one interaction with an office associate at a production company where he worked, “Vicky Chow”. It could’ve provided a meaningful conversation interesting to the reader, but it too was disappointing for its shallowness and lack of illumination into the reasons he started the photog project to begin with. Her sympathetic character asks questions about his intentions and expectations for the work he was doing, but according to his response he hadn’t thought too deeply about it. His replies to Vicky made it seem that working on the project was slightly more time-consuming, and a little less satisfying even, than masturbating in a motel with one of his male subjects.
Curb Service is about the things that happened to Scot Sothern: thoughts he had, things he did and didn’t do, his sexual desires, fantasies and the daily minutia of his life that undoubtedly occupied his imagination. It’s apparent to me that, unlike his work in photography - if his own life was hardly enough to be of interest to him, it doesn’t even come close to being of interest to me.
Read this book if you have nothing else to do, but be sure to check out his photos!