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 Lilith with dollar bills, Cheetahs, Hollywood, 2019
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Exhibition dates: 13 October – 20 November 2022
Private View: Thursday 13 October, 6-9pm, Performance 7pm

For five years, American photographer Elizabeth Waterman spent her Saturday nights taking photographs in strip clubs. She says, ‘It’s a world that has always been in the shadows. I wanted to explore it and bring it into the light.’ Now, Boogie-Wall, the London gallery that only exhibits work by female artists, will present a selection of these photographs in Waterman’s first ever UK show, Moneygame, opening 13 October 2022.

Comprised of eleven medium-scale, black and white and colour photographs, the exhibition opens up a world unknown to many, with each portrait made more intimate by the relationship Waterman built up with her subjects. Inspired by Susan Mieselas’ 1976 work, Carnival Strippers, the women are captured not only pole-dancing and performing but in quieter moments, putting on their makeup, as well as counting their dollars at the end of a long night.

Travelling throughout New York, Los Angeles, New Orleans, Las Vegas and Miami, the photographs – some of which have been published in an acclaimed book in America – were taken at numerous clubs. Waterman spent copious time with the performers, focussing on their athleticism and sexuality in a non-objectifying, female centric way. Both humanising and compassionate, her employment of the female gaze provides the viewer with a not often seen, authentic look at the performers who work inside these clubs.

For example, Malice Alice, whose portrait appears in the show, was photographed by Waterman on several occasions. In her late forties, she has built a twenty-five year career out of performing in clubs. Others turn to stripping from professionally trained dance backgrounds looking to make ends meet, whilst several girls use it to pay off student loans and college fees.

Talking to the girls, helping them gather their bills at the end of the night and going backstage helped the photographer foster an intimate and close relationship with her subjects. This intimacy evinces itself in the portrait of Genesis – one of the most striking pieces in the show – who agreed to be shot in a studio, as opposed to the clubs. In the arresting image, she can be seen wearing a skin-tight leather jacket belonging to Waterman, staring directly into the camera as she exhales a stream of cigar smoke.

Moneygame combines portraits and photographs of the real and now of the strip world in
the USA and captures the dancers’ beauty, playfulness and power. In a nod to the show’s title, Waterman states that, ‘It’s a game. You are making money off of playing with people’s instincts. You are toying with something.’ The dalliance and nuanced complexities embedded within this world are brought to light by Waterman’s camera, as men aren’t — and choose not to be — seen, and instead the women at the centre of these worlds are celebrated.

The closeness with the project led Waterman to become politically involved, attending various protests. One of these protests opposed the 2018 FOSTA-SESTA act, a controversial bill
that intended to make it easier to cut down on illegal sex trafficking, but instead has had a disproportionate impact and disruption to the lives of consensual sex workers. For this reason, Waterman believes her work is also inherently political, and a percentage of sales will go to SWARM collective, a sex-worker led advocacy group based in the UK.

Providing an honest and authentic look at those who have been ignored is typical of Waterman’s work, which often explores the intersections between art, artistry and sexuality, as her next project will focus on photographing porn stars and alternative strippers, particularly members of the LGBTQ+ community.