Heaven is a Strip Club: Rachel Lena Esterline’s Beautiful Images Celebrating Strippers
Belinda Carlisle said Heaven is a Place on Earth, photographer Rachel Lena Esterline agrees and elucidates when she states Heaven is a Strip Club in her first solo exhibition of the same name at Benrubi Gallery.
San Francisco-based Esterline first began photographing female sex workers in 2013 when she was enlisted to shoot marketing photos for a strip club. Since then, Esterline has gone on to photograph thousands of women and built close friendships with some, attending college graduations and baby showers. Esterline has taken intimate portraits in the women’s home environments, be that in the bath or with their children, as well as the everyday minutiae that comes with the job. However, the focus of this exhibition is the center stage spliced with celebratory shots of hands clasping large bulges of bills.
Under the dim neon lights, Esterline highlights athleticism, agency, and sensuality. These women are not the outdated stereotype of down and out women with few alternatives that has historically been associated with sex workers. This notion, instilled in her throughout her Christian upbringing as a pastor’s daughter was something Esterline herself had to unlearn, and what she aims to disprove in her images. Esterline documents her subjects for what they are: independent and courageous. These women are proud feminists.
This sense of agency is particularly apparent in the images #6183 Ricky Rozaee Charlie and #5533 “lil rocket” Miea. Backstage by the performers’ lockers, Ricky Rozaee Charlie looks over her shoulder and down at the viewer. In a fluorescent orange bikini flaunting her butt cheek adorned with a leopard print tattoo that features Hello Kitty and some lips amidst its spots. Meanwhile, “lil rocket” miea is on stage in a nose breaker drop. The women are assertive and hold the viewer in dominant entrancing stares, the later doing so whilst hanging upside-down off a pole by just her legs.
Heaven is a Strip Club is on view at Benrubi Gallery through November 10th, 2018.