Over a period of five years, Los Angeles-based fine-art photographer Elizabeth Waterman spent her Saturday nights in clubs in five U.S. cities, photographing and building a rapport with strippers and exotic dancers. The Los Angeles Times wrote that Waterman “recast the lives of exotic dancers through a female gaze.” She captured them climbing the pole, putting on glittery outfits, and counting their dollars at the end of a long night. Images from this foray were introduced in her now sold-out coffee-table book MONEYGAME (XYZ Books, 2021). MONEYGAME: THE SHOW, the first-ever exhibition of this portfolio, opens at L.A. venue ArtBarLA on Saturday, July 23 with an artist’s reception from 6-9PM. A live pole dancing performance will take place.
Waterman says, “It took months to get access to my first clubs, and find my footing. No one quite understood what I was doing there. But I came in week after week. I helped to collect the dollar bills littering the stage. The dancers began to warm to me. I showed them my work, and they liked how I saw them. Soon they were volunteering to pose on the pole. I know I’ve been changed by the experience. I’ve taken on some of their audacity.”
Charm, who will perform at the opening, is actively involved in the current, high-profile strike by a group of L.A.-area dancers picketing outside the Star Garden Topless Dive Bar in North Hollywood, CA. Their goal is to create the only union for strippers in the U.S., and address safety concerns and working conditions. The picket line has drawn added attention because of the elaborate costumes the strippers occasionally wear – Marie Antoinette for example, in a send-up of the French Revolution. The strike is now in its fourth month.
On view through 8/14, the exhibition presents photographs published in the book, and others that have never been shown – both onstage shots and reflective portraits. Taken primarily on 35mm and 120mm film, the selections include shots from all the cities Waterman visited for the project: Los Angeles, New York, Las Vegas, Miami, and New Orleans. The exhibition was curated by Juri Koll, founder of Venice Institute of Contemporary Art (ViCA). A very limited quantity of the MONEYGAME book will be available for collectors who purchase prints.
With a nuanced gaze and the kindred spirit of a young female artist building her own body of work, Waterman celebrates her subjects’ humanity commitment to mastering their art in service of larger life goals. Often, these women are using income from stripping as part of a well-considered strategy to pay off student loans, raise a family, buy a home, or launch a business.
In October, MONEYGAME will show in London, UK at BOOGIE-WALL, and in 2023, the exhibition opens at Howard Yezerski Gallery in Boston, MA (6/23-7/29). Currently, the online exhibition “Gorgeous Drag,” featuring Waterman’s photographs depicting the NYC drag scene – presented by Stephan Schmid and Albumen Gallery – is up: https://albumen-gallery.com/exhibitions/drag-queens/.
A portion of proceeds from sales of MONEYGAME prints will benefit the non-profit Sex Workers Outreach Project-USA, a national grassroots social justice network dedicated to the fundamental human rights of sex workers and their communities.