“The truth is, I found being a stripper liberating. Who would have thought it?! It allowed me to shed sexual inhibitions; it gave me a huge pool of strong female friends who were intelligent, radical, open and great fun; it empowered me with a decent income that allowed me to be independent, supported me through my university degree and offered a tremendous creative opportunity that has resulted in a lifetime of positive artistic recognition and eventually this very book.”
- Cammie Toloui
The project was photographed in the early 90s when Cammie Toloui was working as a stripper at the Lusty Lady Theater in San Francisco to fund her photojournalism degree at San Francisco State University.
Customers who paid to view her naked body and watch her perform sex acts on herself were offered a discounted price if they consented to being photographed. The resulting series of black and white photographs, baroque-like in their dramatic lighting, are free of any prejudice. Instead, they are compellingly imbued with a deep sense of curiosity and understanding, with each photograph revealing a broad spectrum of sexuality, fetishes, and often-private aspects of masculinity.
“I smuggled my camera into work and got up the courage to ask my first customer if I could take his picture, offering him a free dildo show in exchange. He didn’t seem at all hesitant, and in fact I was shocked when he came back the following week, asking if I would take his picture again. This was an important lesson in the workings of the male ego and served me well for the next two years as a stripper, and the rest of my career as a photographer.” - Cammie Toloui
Today, the series retains a deeply powerful urgency and importance because of how Cammie Toloui took control of and inverted the male gaze, turning it back on itself, at a time where the male gaze was an overarching dominant force within daily life, both culturally and socially.