Some people travel the world in search of adventure, while others seek natural wonders, cultural landmarks or culinary experiences. But French photographer François Prost was looking for something different on his recent trip across America: strip clubs.
From Miami to Los Angeles, Prost’s latest book “Gentlemen’s Club” charts his route across the US through nearly 150 strip clubs with names like Pleasures, Temptations and Cookies N’ Cream. There is not a single naked woman in sight, however, as Prost’s camera is trained exclusively on the buildings themselves – and especially their often colorful facades.
Over the course of five weeks in 2019 he covered more than 6,000 miles, with the resulting photos capturing everything from the pastel colors of Florida’s Club Pink Pussycat to places hiding in plain sight. in the more religious states of the country.
“I divide these places into two types: One is very integrated into the public scene, and the other is a little bit more hidden and unpleasant,” said Prost, speaking to CNN in a video call and email.
The first type, he added, can be found in “very American” settings, such as “around amusement parks and fast food and malls.” The latter areas, however, are sometimes indistinguishable from any store in a strip mall. Prost said he found many such establishments along the Bible Belt, a socially conservative region in the south of the country. He particularly wanted to explore the area because of the apparent contrast between the prevalence of strip clubs and what he describes in his book as “conservatism and extreme puritanism.”
Prost insisted he had little interest in the interiors or service of the strip clubs, which he frequented during the day. Instead, she hopes to learn more about American culture by taking objective, documentary-style photographs of establishments that sit at the intersection of sex, gender and commerce. Documenting changing gender attitudes through the lens of architecture, he added that the series is primarily a landscape photography project.
“The prism of this theme of strip club facades becomes a way to study and try to understand the country,” he wrote in “Gentlemen’s Club,” the photos from which will be seen in an exhibition in Tokyo in March.
“(‘Gentlemen’s Club’ is) an objective panorama of dominant opinions and gender and the sexualization of the feminine image.”
The genesis of Prost’s project began with his 2018 series, “After Party,” which focused on the flamboyant facades of French nightclubs. He said people often commented that the exteriors of the buildings looked like they were taken from American cities, which sparked the idea that he should visit the US and extend the project.
As he carefully planned his trip, he was amazed not only by the number of strip clubs in America but that – unlike in Europe – they were always requested to be seen. The hot pink walls, big bare silhouettes and even the candy-cane-striped storefronts don’t hide the kind of entertainment provided inside.
“A good example is Las Vegas, where strip clubs are everywhere and their signs flash like a fast food (restaurant) or casino sign,” Prost said.
Miami clubs are often painted in vivid, Wes Anderson-esque colors. Other photos show bright covered areas that contrast with their small desert surroundings.
When the establishments were open during the day, Prost would come in and ask for permission to take pictures to “not raise suspicions … and explain what my intentions were,” he said. Interiors rarely live up to the dazzling promises posted on exterior signs, but the photographer meets many characters during his five-week journey, from indifferent bouncers to managers who happy with the project.
“Most of the time, people are OK – 99% of them say yes to a facade photo,” he said, adding that they usually don’t mind his presence, as long as he doesn’t take pictures of patrons. or dancer.
“Some will think it’s a little weird, some will be excited about it and give me their business card to send me a picture when it’s done,” he said.
Prost says his biggest surprise, however, is how “normalized” strip clubs appear in everyday life. As he speculates in his book, “The relationship that Americans have with strip clubs is very different from what you see in Europe. Going to a strip club seems more normal… You go as a couple, or among friends at night to have fun.”
He was surprised, for example, by the fact that many clubs in Las Vegas double as restaurants – with many boasting happy hour deals, buffets and special discounts for truck drivers or construction workers.
“I noticed some strip clubs will advertise that they are a strip club and a steakhouse, so you can eat a big piece of meat (while) watching the strippers. That is also something that seems very American for me,” he said, adding: “I’ve heard from some people I’ve met in Portland that there are even strip clubs (that offer) vegan food.
The facades are filled with jokes like “My sex life is like the Sahara, 2 palms, no dates” and pun-based names like Booby Trap and Bottoms Up. Prost’s documentary approach elevates the surreal comedy of the clues. But it also doubles as a neutral lens through which viewers can make up their own minds about the objectification of women.
By arranging the faceless dancing bodies of female silhouettes and the signs “girls girls girls”, “Gentleman’s Club” examines the commodification of women who, in fact, are completely absent from the Prost’s work (an observation reflected in the title of the book, which is a phrase that appears many times in the labels of his photographs). The strip clubs he visits market women as things to eat, from many food-themed names to an advertisement reading, “1,000 beautiful women and three ugly -ad.”
For his next project, Prost plans to visit Japan to document the country’s love hotels, which occupy the same role as strip clubs in some parts of the US: open secrets of a conservative society. But the photographer believes the American establishments he visits say something unique about the country — something less about sexuality and more about the American dream.
What his project showed him was, he said, this: “As long as you are successful in business, (it doesn’t matter) if your activity is related to sex.”
“Gentlemen’s Club” will be performed at Agnes b. Galerie Boutique in Tokyo, Japan, between March 17 and April 15, 2023. The BOOKpublished by Fisheye Editions, is available now.