The “Monegame” photo book humanizes strippers, exotic dancers

Elizabeth Waterman was desperate.

By setting out to photograph exotic dancers for “Moneygame”, her book describing strippers from a respectful, humanizing and refreshing feminine point of view, the art photographer never anticipated the number of clubs, dancers and dancers. publishers who would say no.

So she started bringing donuts for the bouncers; she wowed the dancers by helping them collect dollar bills on the stage.

“I just wanted these girls to love me so much,” she laughed at her book launch party in October. “Raising dollars is a big job. Some of the bigger cities like Miami have full-time busboys who collect dollars for the dancers. I just wanted them to know that I was on their side.

“Moneygame: Where Women Rule the Stage”, distributed by the Portuguese publisher XYZ Books, is the product of Waterman’s perseverance. Over the course of four years, she visited over 30 clubs in New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Las Vegas and New Orleans, gaining the trust of her subjects and filming them primarily on 35 and 120 millimeter films.

A portion of the sales of the 132-page hardcover book will go to the Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP), a national non-profit organization. Her 76 images, also available as prints, are intended to pay tribute to women’s sexuality and to correct public perceptions of sex workers in general.

“Not everyone has good feelings towards strippers, or they are threatened by it,” she said. “There is a tinge of Christian sentiment in this country and unfortunately it is part of our culture. But it’s inspiring to be around such a celebration of women’s sexuality. At its best, this is striptease: the sexuality of women exposed and celebrated, decorated and monetized. I think every woman could use a little.

Waterman spoke to The Times during her launch about her artistic process, regional differences in the industry, and what she learned after spending so many Saturday nights in strip clubs.

What made you decide to start this project?

In 2016, I went out late at night to photograph New York nightlife, drag queens and burlesque dancers. My best friend had undressed in the past and she was telling me these amazing stories. I just thought, “Wow, this is such a secret community, wouldn’t that be a cool project?” »Drag queens are great to photograph, but there are [so much] competetion. Nobody photographs the strippers. So I started a process of about six months to get permission to shoot.

How was it ?

It was a little overwhelming at first, but I kept trying because I was inspired by what I saw. It was fascinating to watch them. I started in Manhattan, they all said no, then I went to Queens, Brooklyn, and the Bronx and started getting permission. I didn’t even start taking photos that I really liked until nine months into the project.

What did you learn while attending strip clubs?

I [learned there are] several types of clubs. There were the men’s clubs in Vegas, which was more of a closed-door / private experience where customers didn’t really want to be seen. And I was at party clubs in Miami where the girls turned around on the ceiling and there were entertainers and no private rooms. There were bachelorette parties and [mixed crowds of] women and men and there was music and it was like a dance party.

And I learned different ways that women can use their sexuality as a commodity on their own terms, different ways that women get carried away, because for each [person] there is a stripper. You can have the young girl look, or the domineering look, you can prefer skinny strippers or heavy strippers with big asses. So there really is something for everyone.

How did you decide which clubs to spend time at?

Often it was just those who said yes. There were certainly clubs that had been around for a long time that I ended up doing a residency in because they had a very good environment. Sam’s Hofbrau in downtown LA has been in business for a very long time. Crazy Girls on La Brea is another one that had some stability. But some of the best photos I have had were [from] clubs I have been to once or twice. All opening sequence is from Deja Vu Showgirls [Hollywood], which is also in downtown LA. I was there one night and there are probably 10 shots in the book [from there]. Sometimes you are lucky.

Was it difficult to obtain consent?

I think I got better. Las Vegas was a challenge because the girls are really there to make money and frankly I was not there to convey their financial interests. And they knew it, so they were a tough sell. Sometimes it would be one in four or one in six [consenting dancers] in Las Vegas. Some of the more party clubs, it was maybe two out of three. New York and LA had a lot of party clubs, it was pretty easy.

How did the clubs differ regionally?

Vegas was very commercial. In LA I started having more girls working in porn [industry]. I have not experienced this in any other city. In New York, I met more actresses and musicians. I went to New Orleans for Mardi Gras week so it was definitely a wild and fun time. And then Miami was the total party. Open until 6 a.m., full nudity, all alcohol. They had no rules.

What was the most difficult part of setting up this project?

Probably ours. There were strip clubs that kicked me out while I was filming because they thought I was an undercover reporter giving a presentation. Then most of the publishers in the US said no, that’s why I published in Europe because they were more open. They’ve seen the art of it, I think, because when it comes to sexuality, they’re more open-minded.

What were the women you photographed like?

Many of them were creative and enterprising. In most places, they are independent contractors, so they live a self-employed life. And beyond that, you had a huge array: mothers in their thirties who had three children, young girls in school who just didn’t have the patience to have a minimum wage job. You had daughters that were from Thailand who were [reaping] the financial benefits while working towards a green card. You had Instagram influencers who had a million followers and were practically celebrities in strip clubs. You had girls who were professional pole dancers, who danced in Snoop Dogg videos, and had pole dance studios. And you had women running sex worker organizations who were really like community leaders.

What attracts you, more generally, to capturing artists and performers?

I guess this alludes to the human potential for transformation. It’s exciting to know that you can be someone else in a different way. You are not as frozen as you are, you can decorate yourself and step onto the stage of your life. Seeing a spectacular human being in these moments of sporting prowess and beauty is inspiring. That’s why we go to the movies, because you see the potential and the possibilities of what a human being can be.


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