Vienna   I   Austria  I  2013


The photo series was implemented in combination with the Master's thesis in Sociology dealing with "Sexworkers, in the field of tension between social stigma and necessary social service".

In discussing the role of prostitution in society the question arises “Why are sexual services valued morally in a different way than many other services which also aim to satisfy human needs through physical relaxation or pleasurable feelings?” Nevertheless, sex work also fulfills important tasks for society which, in the 13th century, Thomas Aquinas described as follows:

“Whores in the cities [... ] are like castle chess pits. Remove them and the castles would be destroyed by stench and putrefaction.”

Today, too, a visit to a sex service provider represents a safety valve to release any pent-up mental or sexual needs. In society, double standards exist which, on the one hand, publicly decry prostitution and think it objectionable whilst, on the other hand, privately and anonymously welcome it.
Prostitutes are always assigned a place in a social fringe group.This results from society’s prevailing standards and rules of etiquette. People who deviate from them are labelled by society with discriminating qualities and attributes and are assigned to a certain outsider’s group.
If one applies to a single individual the theory of the sociologist Norbert Elias expressed inThe Established and the Outsiders, namely to the person who carries out sex work, one can say that she is always judged by society according to her worst and most stigmatised role, regardless of her current role. And, in this connection, the fact is that even the picture one has of a sex worker leans towards the worst image which exists for this outsider’s group.

The photo series “Heaven on Earth” takes for its theme the illusory world of Vienna’s red light district.

The women must be able to deal with how they conceal the considerable emotional stress behind the ever friendly and sexually desirable façade of the sex service provider.


For the series, sex workers were subsequently asked to participate voluntarily and to portray themselves by drawing a face on a yellow cardboard disc.

Copyright of all images Verena Prenner 2021