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'Modern day fairies': Candid images of strippers at home and on stage

A San Francisco-based photographer has spent almost ten years producing captivating and ethereal photographs of a sometimes misunderstood and marginalised profession in society – strippers.

Rachel Lena Esterline began capturing women in San Francisco strip clubs in 2014 after a friend invited her to a strip club with her camera, in a serendipidous move that would shape the rest of her career until now.

The women were naturally wary of being photographed at first, according to Esterline, because of the negative perceptions society tends to associate with erotic dancing.

In order to win their trust, Esterline had to show that she was there to tell a different story of strippers and exotic dancers that would counteract the stigma.

‘I followed an impulse to enter mysterious territory,’ Esterline said about her inital forway into photographing strippers. ‘It was a calling to explore and Kusen Aluminium Bekasi unlearn my fears around freedom.’

Photographer Rachel Lena Esterline photographed strippers swimming naked in a pool, capturing the etheral beauty of women she refers to as ‘modern fay fairies’

Two dancers enjoying a cigar while sharing a bubble bath together in a sight that is both unguarded and down-to-earth yet still powerful in its raw beauty

Photographing a stripper in a book shop captures the duality of Esterline’s work; both mundane and exotic at the same time

‘Strippers are like modern day fairies,’ Esterline told the in an interview in 2017. ‘They dance into your life, make you feel really good, then take all of your money and float off.’

When Esterline started producing work that showed the women as something both otherworldly and down-to-earth, she gradually gained acceptance among the subjects of her work. 

When the strip clubs grew less keen with Esterline and her work photographing their dancers, she installed a dance pole in her own house and brought them there to photograph them in more humdrum, everyday surroundings. 

She has now photographed thousands of strippers at over a dozen clubs.

‘There was this one night I was walking down Broadway in San Francisco and a bunch of girls from various clubs were screaming my name. They all wanted me to shoot them that night. I don’t know if it gets better than that. But, then again I’m constantly surprised every time I shoot. There’s rarely a dull moment, to be honest,’ she recalls. 

‘Those goddesses commanded space and visibility,’ Esterline said. ‘They took me in like a sister and opened a whole universe of genuine love and respect.’ 

Initially Esterline captured the women in their working environments in a strip club, dancing on stage to entertain punters

After some time of photographing the women Esterline branched out to photograph them outsiude of their workplaces

Esterline captured the women before and after going on stage, dealing with the less glamorous dressing room issues and capturing some of the cameraderie between them

Her photography also shows these mysterious creatures in the mundane light of normal life, in unglamorous, domestic situations such as counting money, in the bath or dealing with tedious admin just like anyone else.

In doing so, she feels that she dispels some of the fear and stigma associated with women who work in an industry so often seen as shadowy and mysterious.  

There are an estimated 3,795 strip clubs in the USA, a number which has remained very steady throughout the years according to industry research consultancy , and the top end earners can make $200k a year.  

‘Those goddesses commanded space and visibility,’ Esterline said when she started photographing the women 

Esterline photographs the takings from a night’s work, with money in different denominations and a pair of stiletto shoes on top

Esterline wanted to empower the women that she saw as so beautiful who society sometimes views with wary distrust

The early photos were mainly of the women on stage, dancing and earning money in strip clubs, where they were often stigmatised by wider society

She captures candid moments between the action, when the women are open and unguarded, in their own homes and leisure places

After she had problems with a strip club letting her photograph, she installed a dance pole in her house and invited the women around to continue their photography

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