Bruh by Yaroslava Bondar February 26, 2021
Photography of strippers is not about props, fantasies, or blank canvases to project ideas upon. Rather, the best photographers of strippers are the ones that capture them as humans, not sexual objects.
Some photographers double as strippers, and vice versa. And some just have a knack for covering these dancers in their purest lights. Whatever the case, we examined a list of stripper photographers that just get it, and their empathy and understanding shines through in their photographs.
You’ve seen TikTok’s and Instagram posts of strippers in clubs, on poles, on stages. And now you may want to capture the world of glitter, neon lights, and skin yourself.
Read on to find out what pitfalls to avoid, what things to consider, and how to highlight the humans and not the sex.
First thing’s first, make sure the club you’re shooting the stripper in allows photography.
Many clubs don’t, some clubs do. You can easily find this out by looking up the club’s website, giving them a call, or stopping by.
Then, even if the club happens to allow photography, depending on if you’re planning to use the photographs for commercial or professional use rather than just as an IG story, you will need to talk to the dancers and other club workers.
To use the dancer’s images you will need a release form; make sure they’re all down to be on camera. Strippers are not your props to use for a photography project; respect their autonomy and freedom to say no.
Once those practical issues are solved, we can get into the juicier bits.
The main thing to consider with stripper photography is: how do you portray them in a way that is fully acknowledging their humanness and not just a sexy depiction of a naked body?
To get a glimpse of how to answer this, we can look at the work of past photographers that tackled this question.
One of the most noteworthy stripper photographers is Susan Meiselas. While her work usually centers around war, she also spent time photographing strippers and dominatrixes.
In her projects “Carnival Strippers” (1972-1975) and “Pandora’s Box” (1995), she is one of the first to explore these often-stigmatized worlds.
In a 1998 review of Meiselas’ work, Margarett Loke writes for the New York Times that “Meiselas insists on seeing people as people, no matter where they find themselves.”
It’s this lack of judging, this focus on the person in the profession rather than the profession itself, that makes for powerful images of strippers.
The best photography of a stripper is intimate.
It shows not just the dancer’s stage presence and acrobatics, but also the glances in the mirror before their shift, the private moment they have with a fellow dancer, the way the light hits their face as they enter the stage.
A look at Rachel Lena Esterline’s work will show just that.
The San-Francisco-based photographer has been capturing the lives of strippers since March 2014. She has been documenting her journey into the world on her Instagram and website.
“In the beginning the girls were cautious,” Esterline said in an interview with Independent.
She added “…but they trust me. We trust each other. When you’re in, you’re in.”
Scrolling through her website the projects, most labeled by name of the women in the shots, feel casual and comfortable. The shots show the women in their own space, lounging, dancing, existing. The fact that they’re strippers is never judged or questioned.
In an interview with Forbes, Esterline said: “Moving beyond judgment is essential to what I make. I’ve learned, and continue to learn, how to let go of potentially harmful, reprocessed beliefs about the industry.”
Letting go of judgment includes not judging the choices of the women or questioning their reasons for being in the profession. It includes not objectifying them.
The other side of this coin is to not romanticize them either. Yes, they look like goddesses on stage, in neck-breaking heels and halos from spots that light their most flattering features but that’s not all that they are.
Erika Langley, a photojournalist took it a step further in getting to know the real women for her project Lusty Ladies, which began in 1992.
She describes it on her website:
“When I approached the Lusty Lady, a peep show run by women in downtown Seattle, and asked if I could photograph their dancers, they said I’d have to become one. So I did.”Erika Langley
By becoming a dancer herself, Langley gained even more access to the women she was photographing. Now, she was not just documenting their intimate lives but living them with the dancers.
Ivar Wigan is another photographer who dove into the culture to document the strippers and their lifestyle as honestly as possible.
For his project “The Gods,” the Scottish photographer spend six months exploring the street culture and stripper scene of Atlanta, New Orleans, and Miami.
He avoided photography for the first eight weeks that he was there as he wanted to be fully immersed and accepted before starting the documentation.
“For me, making the series was about being part of it, and showing it from their side and avoiding the politics,” Wigan said in an interview with Hunger when asked about the strippers specifically.
So, what are the takeaways for photography of a stripper? First off, don’t judge. That is the cornerstone of photography in any subject.
Then, don’t rush. Take your time to really get to know the people you’re photographing. Make sure they consent to be photographed.
Finally, photograph the dancers as people. Not props, not fantasies, not blank slates to project your ideas on. And most of all, don’t be a creep.