Previously on view at Fotografiska, the photography series is now available in the form of a monograph
The mythology of the American strip club promises, above all, the fulfillment of a fantasy: whether it’s a wild night to distract from the mundanity of life, or the opportunity to exchange one’s sexual capital for cash: “After all, [strippers have] our own fantasy, too,” writes the poet, author, and former exotic dancer Rachel Rabbit White. “That of upward mobility, the American Dream.”
It’s this reality that Adrienne Raquel set out to capture in her photographic series ONYX, named after the famous Houston strip club. Originally commissioned by Fotografiska, and now available in the form of a new monograph published by Damiani, the series sees Raquel—a celebrated editorial photographer, whose subjects include the likes of Lil Nas X and Rihanna—turn her lens toward her local community for the first time.
The series is an homage to strip club culture, the aesthetics of which have often been borrowed by hip-hop video vixens, but are rarely honored as an art form in their own right. Equal parts vulnerable and commanding, the women of Club Onyx are captured onstage and off: both in their element, and in the quiet moments before or after a performance. “My photography is, at the end of the day, a huge tribute to women exploring discrimination and confidence and sensuality and beauty and fantasy,” says Raquel. “There’s an artistry to stripping, and I wanted to capture that.”
She entered the project without exposing herself to recent representation of American strip clubs in pop culture, such as the television drama P-Valley or the movie Hustlers; she wanted to bring her own firsthand experience to the table, capturing the atmosphere in the ways that felt most natural in the moment. “Going into the project, I wanted to heroize the women working in the club, and that’s why I chose not to include any men in the shots,” she says. “It’s a strip club; we already know that men are there, so there’s no need to show them.”
Instead, she showcased the power of femininity and the sisterhood among the dancers, who she witnessed look out for one another in ways large and small. “Women, I feel, are the ultimate finessers: They know how to make a man feel on top of the world—and in a strip club, that’s something they sign up for.”