Elizabeth Waterman’s four-year documentation of strip clubs, and the extraordinary women who work within it

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Captured in 25 strip clubs across the US and Mexico, Waterman’s latest photobook, Moneygame, is an extensive documentation of the many facets of strip culture

“It is a hard community to get into,” says Elizabeth Waterman, who has spent the last four years travelling around the US and Mexico, photographing in 25 strip clubs.  The LA-based photographer began the project while living in New York, where she essentially went door-knocking. Eventually, after being rejected from at least 10 clubs in the city, an establishment in Queens allowed her access. Walking in between its black walls and sticky floors, with a camera dangling around her neck, Waterman was met with suspicion. But, she returned – week on week. She brought doughnuts, helped collect dollar bills off the stage, and when she showed the dancers her images, “they liked how I saw them,” she says. The relationships she built at this first club opened doors to 24 more.

From New York to Miami, Las Vegas, and Los Angeles, Waterman photographed on-stage and behind-the-scenes. Many of the strippers she photographed had never worked with a woman photographer, says Waterman, because most clubs tend to hire men to make their promotional images. “If you look at a lot of their Instagram pages, it’s just sexualised imagery,” she says, referring to close-up shots of breasts and bum cheeks. In reality, stripping is much more than flaunting a naked body, it is about endurance, performance, and enhancing the beauty of the female form. “I see these women as beautiful, strong, and powerful. That’s what shows up in the pictures. I became friends with them and was able to capture moments that were real,” says Waterman. “With a lot of male photographers, that isn’t always the case.”

Waterman’s new photobook, Moneygame, focuses on elevating the beauty and athleticism of these dancers, providing an authentic portrayal of their profession. Stripping is not an easy job, and, “in spite of these hazards, many women resolve to enter the profession as part of a strategy, as a means of paying off student loans, buying a house, or working up a stake for a business venture,” writes Waterman, in an introduction to her work. “They find the courage to preserve and maintain their dignity… and on the pole, they seem to transcend it all… in ethereal, dazzling grace.”

Moneygame by Elizabeth Waterman is published by XYZ Books. 

Marigold Warner

Marigold Warner joined the British Journal Photography in April 2018, and currently holds the position of Online Editor. She studied English Literature and History of Art at the University of Leeds, followed by an MA in Magazine Journalism from City, University of London. Her work has been published by titles including the Telegraph Magazine, Huck, Gal-dem, Disegno, and the Architects Journal.