Susan Meiselas has been my main source of inspiration for quite some time now. I have always been captivated by her ‘Carnival Strippers’ body of work, where she spent her summers from 1972-1975 photographing and interviewing women who performed a striptease for carnivals in New England, Pennsylvania and South Carolina. She documented them on and off stage, portraying their performances and their personal lives. She also interviewed the dancers, boyfriends, show managers and punters to depict the realness of the strip show. This body of work reflects the struggle these performers had whilst doing this act and brought a hidden event to the public attention.
Susan Meiselas has influenced many recent projects of mine. Although I am trying to represent the positive aspects of Burlesque, the way she documents her performers by gaining close friendships with her subjects is something that I think is vital in portrait photography to capture intimate moments. That is the main reason why I am working so closely with one performer (Miss Von Vamp), who is one of my friends any way, but we have definitely become closer by me documenting her performances, her getting ready and her in a staged shoot. We have spoken a lot about Burlesque performances and she has really opened my eyes to the world of Burlesque, and made me change my views on it entirely. I knew little about it when I first photographed her back in my second year, but I think they are such interesting subjects and that’s why I have carried on with this investigation into burlesque.
When I first began my Final Major Project I was adamant that I wanted to focus on voyeurism and the audiences role within burlesque, but naturally I found myself more eager to shoot the subject in a typical location that they would perform in. I did attempt to photograph the audience at the Secret Fridae event, but the images didn’t represent what I had to say about burlesque. I want to show the audience my positive views on burlesque by portraying these women the way I think they deserve to be presented. I have photographed in small pubs and grand theatres, but the images seem to look the same because my sole focus is on the individual with little distractions. I will have to ask my peers whether they think I should use the live burlesque images or the staged ones. I personally prefer the staged images, mainly because of how they look aesthetically, but also when I shot these, they seemed more personal and intimate to me. I feel a book might be appropriate with my images, simply because of the amount I have taken over these last few months. My last shoot definitely felt like I had captured everything I had set out to do. There was no audience and no distractions, but I’ve now realised by my final shoot that this is what I wanted to portray, the performer getting ready, the location and the amazing elaborate costumes. It’s a simple reasoning, but I’m presenting these subjects in the positive light in which I see them.
You can view Carnival Strippers here.