MOSCOW, SEPT. 10 -- The photographer who shot a series of photos featured by Time magazine in a dramatic article on child prostitution admitted in an interview this week that he paid for the photos to be staged and that several of them do not show what their captions claim.
The photographer, Alexei Ostrovsky, 18, also said he is not certain that the two boys in the photos really are prostitutes but still believes they may be.
A Moscow police investigation, meanwhile, has concluded that the story is a "fake" and that the children in the photographs are not prostitutes, according to police spokesman Lt. Vladimir Zolotnitsky.
Under the headline, "Defiling the Children," Time ran a shocking group of photographs of an alleged pimp, "Sasha," and two boys whom he allegedly dressed as girls to sell their sexual services on the streets. Time reported that the boys, ages 8 and 9, "wound up in Sasha's clutches when they were cast into the street during the ongoing social upheaval" in Russia.
The photos showed Sasha applying makeup to the boys, feeding them soup at their purported home and seeking clients for them.
The article caused a sensation because it seemed to sum up the anything-goes atmosphere of post-Communist Russia, where nearly everything -- and everyone -- has a price. But questions were raised about the authenticity of the photographs and about why prostitutes, a pimp and a client would be willing to show their faces so openly.
In August, Time said in an editorial that it was investigating the matter. A senior editor, Joelle Attinger, said in a telephone interview today that Time reporters have interviewed or reinterviewed Sasha, the children and the photographer in an effort to establish the truth.
"What I can tell you is that the uncertainty that continues to surround these pictures and how they were taken is of great concern to us, and that had we known or been aware of what we are now aware of we would not have run them," she said.
But Attinger said Sasha continues to insist that he is a pimp and that the two boys are prostitutes. She said the boys as well as Ostrovsky have changed their stories so often that it is difficult to establish the truth.
She also said Time will report the results of its inquiry. "We have every intention of informing our readers of where this stands as far as we've been able to determine," Attinger said.
The police investigation, based on interviews with Ostrovsky and the two boys and others, concluded that the boys -- in fact ages 11 and 14 -- had no experience as prostitutes or dressing as girls, Zolotnitsky said. He said Ostrovsky paid the boys 6,000 rubles ($6) apiece and paid the alleged pimp 10,000 rubles ($10) to create the scenes. The police said Ostrovsky himself bought skirts and blouses for the boys.
In a telephone interview this week, Ostrovsky said he bought Sasha 10,000 rubles worth of beer and cigarettes. He said he did not buy girls' clothing, although Sasha may have, and said he gave the boys only some chocolate and bananas.
Ostrovsky said one Time photo that showed Sasha selling one boy to "a regular customer" was staged, using a car belonging to Ostrovsky's friend. The photograph came about when Ostrovsky tried to persuade Sasha to "show us how he negotiates with a client," Ostrovsky said.
"He said that would be impossible, he would lose a client," Ostrovsky recalled. "Then he called some guy over and said that this guy sometimes buys a boy from him, and we put this guy into our car."
Another photo purports to show one boy on a park bench, sitting "on the lap of a client before leaving with him." Ostrovsky said this week that the man and the child did not leave together and that the man was not a client, at least at the time of the picture-taking. Sasha said the man sometimes bought "a boy from me," Ostrovsky recounted.
"Well, of course, I also had my doubts," he said. "I know from experience that usually in such cases you can get a lens smashed in. So I think this is one of the very few points which can arouse some doubts."
Another Time photo showed Sasha ladling out soup to the two boys. Time described the scene as "Dinner at home outside Moscow; the lure for the kids is food and a place to live."
Ostrovsky said the photo was actually taken in an apartment where neither Sasha nor the boys live. The photographer said that, in fact, the boys live with their parents, but frequently run away, according to Sasha.
Ostrovsky, who said he has not yet been paid by Time, said he still believes the boys may be prostitutes. "When we saw the kids, how dirty they were, their behavior, we were less doubtful," he said. "I never deceived anybody; it wasn't written from my words."
He also said that after the story appeared, Sasha suggested that the whole thing had been faked but then reversed his story. "He said, 'No, no, no, I was just kidding, it's all true,' " Ostrovsky recounted. "So even today, I don't know. I don't know. I can't be sure."
Before the story appeared, a Time correspondent spoke with Sasha, though not with the boys, and confirmed from "five independent sources" that Sasha was a pimp who "does indeed run a ring of boys, some of whom dress as girls," Attinger said.
"There's no question in our minds, or in our reporters' minds, that child prostitution is a social problem there as it is elsewhere," Attinger said.
The police investigation, conducted at the request of a parliament committee, will lead to no action since no crime was committed, Zolotnitsky said. He said, however, that he believed the article had damaged Russia's reputation.
"I don't know what people abroad think about how the Moscow police work, but you can be sure that if they see a small boy made up like a girl, walking on Red Square as in this picture, our police will do something," the spokesman said.
Special correspondent Sam Hutchinson contributed to this report.