Juliana as Amanda with Anonymous Customer, Naked City, Queens, N.Y., 1993, © Juliana Beasley
The start of March begins with a slew of art fairs and gallery openings in New York City. For this week's Op-Ed series, we're reposting Juliana Beasley's story behind "Juliana's Secret Stash." Juliana is participating in a group show at Michael Mazzeo Gallery, with an opening tomorrow, and is debuting her personal history. We're honored to have her reveal such an intimate part of her life.
Juliana as Nico at Naked City, © Juliana Beasley
This series of Polaroid’s is lovingly called “Juliana’s Secret Stash”. I have kept this work hidden in a shoebox away from light and away from the sight of others—except for the occasional friend—for over almost two decades, until now. I will show part of this collection, in the form of larger sized scans of the Polaroid’s, for the first time at the Micheal Mazzeo Gallery from March 4th through April 11th 2009.
During the 1990s, I was dancing and photographing in strip clubs in the tri-state area and around the USA, paving the way to completion of my book Lapdancer. Stuffed away into my duffle bag of g-strips and spandex costumes, I also toted along the SX-70 and Joy Cam Polaroid cameras to photograph dancers, take portraits of myself with other dancers and self-portraits.
Throughout my career as a dancer, I often took the opportunity to be photographed with well known and not so well known feature dancers and porn stars. Feature dancers are performers who come to the gentlemen’s club for the week to perform a "special" routine on stage, bringing in elated customers.
Leah's First Night, © Juliana Beasley
I had many chances to have my portrait taken with these weekly performers. When I worked in Honolulu for half a year, I found a club where porn stars and features were a common part of the program, night and day. They would fly in just to parade their specialty, whether it was grotesquely large implants, the size of three human heads smushed together in one globule, or a bubble bath on stage. They performed several times during a shift. In one week, they definitely earned more money than I did, or at least, this is what I heard from other dancers who estimated that in a year’s worth of work, they grossed 200K and more.
Between stage shows and meeting with adoring groupies, they hid in their personal dressing rooms. The “house” club dancers wondered what they did in there? I imagine apply more make-up upon sweaty made-up faces and calculate the day’s earnings with their traveling managers.
They were the rock stars of the business. I was a supporting actress.
Juliana as Jesse with Goldi Star in Hawaii, © Juliana Beasley
Part of the fanfare was not only an effort to promote their unique performance, but also to sell their fanzines and offer a lasting memory to the customers in return for a nominal fee. After a performance, the male fans would line up in a corner of the club and pay to have a Polaroid taken of themselves and their favorite glamour queen. Instant gratification before the days of digital! The adult starlet would then scribble the customary signature on the Polaroid with something brazen such as the classic "Cum See Me". Sometimes, when they had the time, they would write something more original and address it to the customer.
I often went and took my place at the end of the cue to pleasantly ask the performer, “Can I have my photo taken with you?” Whatever they thought of me, I always walked away charmed and delighted with my new possession. All I wanted was a bit of nostalgia from my dancer days in the form of a celluloid Polaroid to hold onto for future days and laughs.
During the final years of working on Lapdancer, I was no longer dancing myself and traveled the United States simply to photograph. I went to Colorado, Las Vegas, Tampa, Ft. Myers and Miami. I began shooting “house” dancers with my newly bought Polaroid Joy Cam. I had an idea: I would photograph a dancer and ask her to sign the bottom of her portrait with a Sharpie just like the feature and porn actresses had done, elevating her to a higher level of stardom. Instead of the formulaic one-liners, I asked them to write what they were really thinking at that very moment while working a night’s shift at the club.
Pennie, © Juliana Beasley
Many of the dancers wrote the ubiquitous “I want to make lots of MONEY” or something close to it. However, sometimes a dancer would write very personal ironic or sad one-lined commentaries. An older dancer from Ft. Myers named Pennie wrote under her portrait, “Thanks for seeing something in me that I no longer see”.
My concept was a simple. I wanted to create a visual pun mimicking the feature dancers’ flagrant self-presentation, a juxtaposition of fantasy in relation to reality. I knew from personal experience that behind every dancer’s smile and agreeable affect are thoughts far from the external trimmings.
Wanna Dance?, Las Vegas, © Juliana Beasley
I am intrigued with this frank inner monologue within each dancer and how it compares to that of the feature dancers’ contrived scribblings upon the Polaroid’s white edges.
This dichotomy is not singular, nor a detached phenomenon existing only within strip clubs. We are all tempted to pass through life euphorically embracing the consumption of fantasy, rather than facing not only simple joys, but also the reality of pain.
For more information about the story behind the work go to:
We want to thank Juliana for allowing us to repost this entry. Please go see her work and say hi at the opening.
Juliana's Secret Stash at Art Fair!
Michael Mazzeo Gallery
March 4 through April 11, 2009
526 W. 26th street
NY, NY 10001