Like actresses and politicians, prostitutes present calculated, protective facades to the public. Those fronts are sell-jobs, certainly, but also attempts to conceal and preserve a sense of self. People so guarded don't readily share their true identities with strangers, so Reagan Louie's expeditions (1995-2002) to photograph sex workers throughout Asia were decidedly quixotic. In "The Photographs of Reagan Louie: Sex Work in Asia," his deglamorized and occasionally crude images inhabit a fascinating netherworld somewhere between journalism and portraiture. His avowed goal was to eliminate as much as possible the power imbalance implicit in the photographic transaction. But a john is a john -- even one who's only taking photos -- and the women responded with varying degrees of guardedness, self-assertion, vulnerability, and boredom.
The Bay Area photographer does succeed in undercutting the kind of stereotypes that propel Westerners to hop jets to Bangkok. Louie's images exude drudgery, tedium, and ignominy -- the "work" in "sex work" -- and his attitude is remarkably nonjudgmental. Except for the nudity, these women could be night-shift waitresses. Sex goddesses? No, just working girls. Louie has no political or moral agenda, so when he records a commercial persona rather than a private side, the photograph still packs a punch. Sometimes the absence of humanity is as powerful as its presence. The exhibit opens today (and runs through Dec. 7) at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 151 Third St., S.F. Admission is free-$10; call 357-4000 or visit www.sfmoma.org.
-- Michael Fox
The city's friskiest midnight movie series continues at the Clay, packing Pac Heights with rodents of unusual size, camp-mongering caped crusaders, tunefully Gothic holiday subversives, office drones, space invaders, and gun-toting, quip-spouting newlyweds. "Pen and Ink: 8 Tales in the Comic Book Tradition" presents some of the best anime-style fun ever drawn up for the big screen, including the hysterical workplace exposé Office Space, the classic fairy-tale yuk-fest The Princess Bride, the hammy 1966 Batman, the silly alien thriller Mars Attacks!, and the nihilistic love story True Romance. The movies screen Fridays and Saturdays through Oct. 25 at the Clay Theatre, 2261 Fillmore (at Clay), S.F. Admission is $5; call 267-4893 or visit www.8tales.com.
-- Jonathan Kiefer
Director Ariella Ben-Dov pulled together 12 evenings of films for the MadCat Women's Film Festival from almost 900 submissions. Foremost among the offerings is a movie that, although made in 1970, sounds like it might fit in with the current "butt-kicking babes" genre. The Student Nurses follows four brave women's libbers through the maze of drugs, violence, and politics that is nursing school. Other highlights include three pieces by the experimental film queen of the 1940s, Maya Deren. The festival opens tonight at 8:30 at El Rio, 3158 Mission (at Cesar Chavez), S.F. Screenings continue through Oct. 5 at various venues. Admission is $7-20; call 436-9523 or visit www.madcatfilmfestival.org.
-- Hiya Swanhuyser
Once upon a time, our federal government believed that media outlets should be owned by as many companies as possible, all the better to allow independent proprietors to open up cans of whup-ass on wrongdoers without fear of parent-company reprisal. But somewhere along the line the FCC changed its mind, and on Sept. 4, new ownership regulations that destroy anti-consolidation protections are set to go into effect. Don't like the repercussions of the new rules? Join Bay Area activists at the "Reclaim the FCC" rally and let your voice be heard. The event begins at 5 p.m. at the KPIX Studios, 855 Battery (at Broadway), S.F. Admission is free; call 575-5555 or visit www.reclaimthefcc.org.
-- Joyce Slaton