Venus Van Gogh is a 28-year-old escort based in Melbourne, Australia. Venus began working in the industry when she was 19 at a “non-sexual massage parlour” (more on that in a minute) and, over the years, has tried her hand at stripping, erotic massage, escorting, online sex work and porn. More recently, Venus began her photography business, Goddess Photography, after feeling as though there weren’t any photographers that worked well with her body type. We talk about her experience in the industry as both an escort and a photographer below!
Amelia: Hi Venus! Thanks so much for chatting with me today. Could you introduce yourself so that the readers can get to know you?
Venus: Sure! I’m Venus Van Gogh, and I wish I had a funny or quippy intro, but everything I could think of sounded shit. I take photos of and hang out with people for money… There aren’t usually many clothes involved in either profession.
I always tell people that I was 21 when I started in the sex industry as a stripper, but for a few years there, I actually forgot – like it just disappeared from my mind – that I had my start at 19 in 2012 with two shifts at a massage parlour. It was one of those Gumtree ads that specified “$70 per hour… Non-sexual service” and whatever, but young and naive never-had-a-job-before me thought $70 an hour was better than Coles, which wouldn’t hire me anyway… Besides, mum always told me I had magic hands when she asked me for a massage.
So, I turn up, the manager asks me to give him a massage – yeah, I know, I know – and teaches me what I need to know, making sure to reiterate that it was a non-sexual service while he lay there naked with a hard-on. I get my first massage booking, then the dude offered me an extra $50 to massage me instead and… You know how it goes. That client was actually the first person to make me cum ever. I was a virgin at the time too. After I did my first extra, the client obviously told the manager, and he was like, “Oh, you can do that if you want to, but just make sure it’s only with regs”. I did two shifts and then went on a little weekend away with friends with the money I made, then never went back.
Then at 21, I came back from Europe with like $50 to my name, and a few of my friends worked at the local strip club, so I went in and worked. The manager there actually tried to fire me after my first shift because he didn’t think I was cut out for it, but my determined ass turned up again anyway, and after a few months, I got pretty fucking good at it and was saving every penny for a house deposit. After a couple of years, I started dabbling in massage parlours and brothels on my nights off and then I realised I was consistently making more money at a particular brothel, so on a really slow night at the club, I cracked the shits. I walked out without saying anything to anyone, without paying the house fee, and never went back.
I pivoted to private work early in 2018 due to a bunch of health issues and a toxic relationship, which have both disappeared over the years, and here I am. I also dabble in online work and did a porn scene a while back. I don’t really have the time to commit to it properly, but I’m not keen on such a high level of exposure in that sphere anyway.
Amelia: Wow, okay! It’s really cool that you’ve worked in all different parts of the industry. I love the story about the massage place you did a few shifts at when you were 19. I remember seeing a similar ad for a place like that when I was 18 (before I started sex work), and I replied to the ad, but I don’t think I ever went for the interview. I thought it was a legit remedial massage place but looking back now, I’m pretty sure it wasn’t! Anyway, enough about me. I love how vibrant your escort branding is – it feels like your photos are so full of life and personality. Can you explain your approach to marketing as an escort and why you have chosen to brand in this way?
Venus: Something I learned while stripping is that if you’re not the conventional ideal, you have to work THAT much harder. While I recognise that I’m white and relatively conventionally attractive, I do have to battle a certain element of fatphobia at every turn. However, the one thing I recognised in the last eight years in various parts of the industry is that a good enough portion of the market don’t care too much what you look like, and they’re just there to have a good time. I go by the 3 Ps – personality, personality and personality. It’s hard to get your personality across in 16 pictures and a few paragraphs. I mean, what does intelligence look like? Show me a picture of an intelligent person. But there are certain things I can bring to a shoot, like warmth and fun and sex appeal and food. Food is about 74% of my personality anyway.
At a certain point during lockdown last year, I basically sat down and crafted my next three years’ worth of shoot ideas, and I’m always adding more concepts to it and collecting more and more clothing and lingerie and fleshing those ideas out. I have everything I need for the next three shoots just sitting in my wardrobe. I’ve always been a super-duper creative person. Writing, painting, drawing, singing, acting, performing, photography, filmmaking. You name it, I’ve either studied it or done it as a hobby. My brain is bursting at the seams with ideas, and I kind of see the world in pictures, if that makes any sense. A lot of my memories or concepts are like old photographs, and while I don’t have an eidetic memory – my memory is pretty shit actually – I have a vivid imagination for visual detail.
The real battle there is taking those concepts and fitting them into branding as not only an escort but as me. I did an entire shoot based on Alice in Wonderland in November 2020. How is Alice in Wonderland even sexy? Apparently, a short blue dress and a game of peek-a-booty, as well as a queen of hearts bodysuit in a bath inspired an erection or two. There’s so much to think about in terms of how to turn those concepts into something my client demographic will enjoy and to evolve and reach the types of clients I want to bring into the fold, but honestly, I really am just in search of creative satisfaction for me. It may alienate certain clientele because it’s not FHM itty bitty bikini shit, but I’m in a privileged enough position to still focus on my needs when I’m creating. I love jewel tones and classic silhouettes, I don’t want to be mistaken for ANYONE else, and my shoots are RIFE with symbolism, references and nostalgia.
Amelia: I really appreciate that you brought up the fatphobia issue. I read the article you wrote about that a little while ago and thought it was excellent. I’ll link the article for the readers (see: A Melbourne Escort on Fatphobia in the Sex Industry). And in terms of the photoshoots, I feel that the effort that you put into your shoots is very obvious. The thoughtfulness really comes across, and I love that. It’s like, if you put that much effort and care into a photoshoot, I can imagine that you put a lot of effort and care into your bookings, and I wonder if clients can see that too. And also, in addition to being an escort, you are a photographer. Your photography business is called Goddess Photography. Why did you decide to start this business?
Venus: In 2018, when I left brothel work and became independent, I was learning the lay of the land, and I was using pictures my ex-boyfriend had taken of me on a very old Nikon that I got off eBay. As you do, you always want to improve, and I knew I needed better photos to be charging the rates I was charging. But didn’t really see any photographers who worked with my body type and, to be perfectly honest, didn’t want to spend a shit-ton of money on a shoot because everyone else who had ever taken a photo of me seemed to get my worst. I did some research, blew $5k of my savings on a beautiful camera and some equipment and decided I would just do some cheap shoots so I could make that money back. I did a couple of free photoshoots with an ex-housemate and a friend and thought they weren’t half bad. Then started an Instagram and a Twitter for it, and I was charging like $100 for a one-hour shoot and like five edits.
Over time as I got better and better, I really started to enjoy shoots, not only because I get to meet my peers, but because I’m really, very proud of the work I do. I’m not technically perfect, but it’s so good for the soul to just make beautiful things and to get such good feedback from my clients about how what I do has helped their business and how I made them feel comfortable.
I guess Goddess Photography is my outlet, in the same way that sex work is. I have all of this creative energy and a brain that doesn’t stop wanting to create, and by doing both, I get to create for myself and create in a way that helps others. I have a lot of ideas that don’t work for me, or for my body type, or for the clientele I want, so if I can pass that on to people who can use them that’s just as satisfying. I don’t know how I managed to swing such a miracle, but my job satisfaction is remarkably high for someone still in their 20s.
Amelia: I love that so much. And I really hear what you’re saying about some photographers not doing a great job of shooting a range of body types. It’s really great that you have been able to really able to carve out a niche in that area. As you are both an escort and professional photographer, how important do you think professional photos are for escorts?
Venus: I’m not going to say it’s absolutely essential because it’s not. It depends on who you are, your brand, your demographic, and your rates. You need a certain quality of photo to command a certain rate, which is probably the biggest reason to do a professional photoshoot. You need a certain quality and vibe to your photos to attract each demographic. Your photos should reflect the level of luxury you are trying to convince your clients that they are getting. If you’re a no-frills kind of person and your clients dig that, that is completely valid, and you shouldn’t spend thousands on a pretty photoshoot. If you want to spend your summers on a yacht in the Maldives with your clients, well, you’re going to need some pretty special photos.
Amelia: Totally agree. It all comes back to branding and marketing. Do you have any advice for escorts in regards to photoshoots? What leads to a successful shoot?
Venus: Preparation is key! I have a whole info pack on my website to help you prepare. You need to show up for yourself if you’re going to get the best out of your shoot. Photographers aren’t miracle workers; we can only manipulate what’s in front of us. If you’re late, flustered, stressed, have spent the entire morning before your shoot doing last-minute shopping or fighting with your boyfriend… All of that eats into the quality of your shoot. Take your shoot seriously. Take your time, plan well ahead, and ensure you are in the right headspace to be ON and in front of a camera, especially if you show your face.
Practise before your shoot. Chuck your phone on a tripod or get in front of the mirror and get to know your body and how it looks from various angles. Get comfortable with what you see, otherwise receiving your images may be quite a shock.
Create a Pinterest board of images you want to emulate and share that with your photographer, so you’re on the same page. Don’t copy someone else exactly. Don’t pick the same location, use all the same concepts, use the same outfits and do the same poses, but at the end of the day everything has been done so feel free to draw inspiration from imagery that makes you feel something.
Think about the colours in your location and think about how you can complement or contrast them to make a more striking image. Bring along items and decor to infuse your own colour scheme into the scene.
Wear items that fit you and flatter your shape. We all have squishy bits, but really think about the fact that you’ll be arching and bending and all the rest. You’re better off with cheap items that fit you properly than an AP set that causes a world of overhang. Watch out for strappy items.
Amelia: Such great advice. I know photoshoots can be really anxiety-provoking for many escorts, so it’s always nice to have tips from someone who is really experienced in what makes a good shoot. Now, if readers do want to go ahead and book a shoot with you, what is the best way for them to do that?
Venus: It’s a great idea to head to my website. I’ve sort of laid it out for you a little. You’ll want to check out my portfolio, rates and pre shoot info pack which takes you through the process and what’s involved. Then when you’re set on the idea of shooting with me and have a general idea of which package you want and when you’d like to shoot or have any questions, you can use the contact form on my website or shoot me a a DM on Twitter.
Amelia: Excellent. Last question for fun: How did you choose your escorting name?
Venus: I’ve actually been Venus since I was a stripper. My first name was Valerie, for both the Amy Winehouse and Steve Winwood tracks which are all-time faves, then I was Fox for a while when I had red hair and then as soon as I went blonde, I was Venus. I remember thinking, “You can’t get better than a goddess” as I was dreaming up the concept. I’m also a history and mythology nerd, so I live for those kinds of references. When I first went private and needed a last name, I thought of Rayne as a kind of “worship me, respect me” kind of thing, but I didn’t realise how it would attach itself to BDSM, which isn’t my thing. I began to hate it not long after I started using it but was waiting for the best opportunity to change. After lockdown, I was reborn as Venus Van Gogh to explore the symbolism of Vincent Van Gogh, who is one of my favourite artists. Surrealism is definitely my thing. I relate to him not just as an artist, but in greater themes of romance and mental health. It’s kind of pretentious, the whole tortured artist thing, but I guess I’m a bit pretentious at times, and I’m at peace with that.
Amelia: That is such a lovely origin story. Again, it really comes through how thoughtful you are with everything you do, which is such a beautiful quality to have. And thank you again for taking the time to answer all my questions. It’s so valuable to be able to hear the perspectives of a range of sex workers.
Save yourself a whole lot of time (and frustration) by letting me write your copy. Think clear, concise brand messaging, words that prompt action and avoid clichés – I’m an expert when it comes to strategy and creating clever copy that speaks to clients.