stripper project: 01/24/12

stargarden: june 21, 1996

I first began photographing exotic dancers, or who most people call strippers, on June 21st, 1996, at a small club called Stargarden in North Hollywood. A fitness model friend named Patti danced there a few nights a week.. One night Patti wanted me to tag along so she’d have someone to talk to between her stage dances. She didn’t want to be bothered by the “guests” at the club.

I had no idea she stripped. I had never been to a strip club before. (That’s a white lie to be explained at another time. Funny story!) I probably should have guessed she was an exotic dancer but I was so naive about that kind of thing. I never had a group of male beer buddies.

Patti was one of the most sensual women I had ever met. Her routines at fitness competitions were unlike those of the other competitors. Their’s were athletic and pure like a gymnast’s routine. Patti’s routine oozed with such intense sexuality it knocked you out of your chair. Men and women alike found her so sensual.

The fitness model connection took me to what ended up being my “home” club; Delilah’s Den in Philadelphia. Oh my god! I had never seen anything like it in my life. The place was enormous with 100 topless women working the crowd on a Friday night. It was a sea of lap dances.

During the nine years I worked on the project I kept a journal. This is one of my stories.

3/27/98: Is Delilah’s Den an ungodly house of sin or is it a reputable house of pleasure? I was hugged all night long by naked women. I was rubbed, french kissed, and coddled. It is impossible to be an independent observer for long. The women draw you into their world. One runs by me after a lap dance shouting over the loud music “I hate men”. She doesn’t include me in “Men”. I have become a generic person, neither man or woman.

arista at delilah's den

Sex was all around me. It was difficult to get through to my camera bag past the lap dancing woman and her two customers. Should I look at them, fearful of catching their gaze or the eyes of the client? I didn’t look at any of them except at one dancer, a true exhibitionist and voyeur combined. It was hard not to notice her. She wanted me to notice and watch my reaction.

cinamon at delilah's den

Two men massaged another woman who previously gave both of them seemingly endless private dances. One man rested with his legs spread wide open while the other enjoyed the efforts of the sensual dancer’s performance. Was the resting man cooling his crotch, waiting for the next round? On the couch behind them, the “exhibitionist” was alternating between slapping the asses of other dancers, all of them paid for by a bachelor’s party, and having her body fondled by the soon to be groom. This group ebbed and flowed in and out of the VIP lounge like the tide. Three women – 1 man. 5 women – 5 men. 1 woman – two men. Each time I came back to my camera bag to get more film the configuration was different. From where I sat, sometimes I could only see the face of a lone man slouched in what I called the couch of ectasy. The voyeur was down there somewhere.

tyra and china at delilah's den

Fellini would have enjoyed the action. One woman melding into the next. Scene overlapping scene. Same man, new woman. Two women. Three men. Five women. 2 men, 2 women. I guess it depended on which women were available at the time. Some times the men had to get up for air. Except for the voyeur and the two dancers receiving ass slaps, the other women were interchangable. This must have been the party of the groom’s life. Sometimes there were so many women I couldn’t see the men underneath them. I’d finally see a pant leg beneath the rumble and I knew some guy was feeling lucky. I hope the dancers made a ton of money that night. They deserved it.

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