Dancing Naked in the Material World, 1979 - 1992
Why did I decide to this project? Initially because I was doing a sequence assignment at Portfolio Center in Atlanta. I knew some bartenders who worked nearby at a strip club. I was a bartender too (trying to pay for school) At this point, influences from my sociology background kicked in. I asked if they could help me find a dancer who would allow me to photograph her stripping. I wanted to know why they do it, how they do it, and what makes them do it.?
The break came when my teacher and mentor, Dennis Darling, (studied under Harry Callahan) asked me to take over a fluff piece for Atlanta Magazine about strip clubs (all here in Atlanta). The women were not warming up to him, as they all had been approached by too many men asking to photograph them. I was able to approach them as a woman interested in their stories, which I then later recorded through interviews.
I worked on this off and on for twelve years It was near the end of the project when the book deal came through. During that time I went undercover at the Gold Club in Buckhead, as a cocktail waitress (a la Gloria Steinem) for a very long month, to experience what it was like inside.
My hope was to give the women some human dignity by having an opportunity to express themselves through words and stories. For me, the important nugget of truth was how much we are all fundamentally the same underneath it all.
What makes women take off their clothes in front of a lot of men for money? How can they do it? In this book, the dancers themselves will answer these questions in their own words so that the reader can look beyond the surface and into these women as individuals. Some are mothers. Some are married. Some are college graduates. Many of the dancers are also prostitutes and drug addicts. Yet, they are all human beings who exhibit a measure of tenderness seen in these photographs. They dance a role created by the circumstance of their lives. Like modern Solomes, they are dances on the lowest rung of the entertainment ladder. This is not burlesque. It is blunt and gritty. We can recognize in the photographs the anger, the rejection, the competition that weaves like a smoky haze around the work these women , these naked girls, do. These images challenge our vision of strippers and force us to reconsider our tendency to shut them out, to push their experience into a separate, lesser reality.
Strippers work in a sex world where sex usually never happens. In the clubs that employ them, men seek out a fantasy for a dollar with no threat of real intimacy. As one customer put it, "It's less of a hassle to watch someone take their clothes off here, without the involvement of a relationship." From the dancer's perspective, she gets "fulfilled emotionally without having to deal with intimacy.
After deciding to do a photographic series on strippers, I worked as a waitress at one of the clubs in Atlanta. Working with the dancers and conducting interviews with many of them, I got to know first-hand the stripper's workplace, the rules she must abide by, the people she must deal with, and the relationships--both good and bad--forged between the women. I have found that there really is not much difference between us.
Marilyn Suriani (Futterman)