About the Lusty Lady Series
The Lusty Lady photographs were shot in the early 1990s when I was a stripper at the Lusty Lady Theater in San Francisco. I was a struggling student, trying to get my degree in photojournalism and unable to afford the massive amounts of film and paper required for my classes. So, after talking to a few friends who worked there, I got up the nerve to audition and before I knew it, I was a stripper a few nights a week.
The Lusty Lady was a unique place to work. Part of the theater is a peep-show, where customers sit in a private booth and feed money into a machine, then watch as a panel slides up to reveal a mirrored room full of nearly-naked women, dancing, slinking and pressing their sweet parts to the glass for the customer to ogle. There is no physical contact, and the dancers got paid an hourly rate via paycheck with taxes taken out and everything, just like most people do.
The other part of the theater's live show is called the Private Pleasures booth. The customer is enticed into a small booth adjacent to a windowed-booth wherein sits a lovely Lusty Lady. Once in, he (or she) can see the dancer through a large window. Curtains and doors to the outside world are shut, leaving customer and dancer alone.
Five dollars meant three minutes of time to watch me strip, pose and (pretend to) masturbate while the customer could do almost anything s/he wanted to do. Some would masturbate and come in just three minutes, while others would take their time and pay more money. It was an interesting job, and I often had wild stories to tell my friends, because there was always someone with an unusual fetish or desire to unleash in the booth with me. A common complaint from the men was that their wives wouldn't understand, say, an urge to dress up in women's lingerie, or the need to be a submissive slave, to watch a woman with a dildo or even to be told he is handsome and has a big dick. Sometimes I felt like a therapist or a social worker.
Two years passed and I was taking a class taught by Ken Kobre, a well-known teacher of photojournalism. We were learning the art of the photo story, and one of the first assignments was to photographically document our own lives for a week.
I wasn't sure how I was going to document my job, but eventually I got up the nerve to bring my camera into the Private Pleasures booth one evening. I was so sure that none of my customers would allow me to photograph them, that I had asked a friend to come in and stand on the other side of the glass so I could take a picture of the booth. Luckily, he never showed up, because it forced me to take a chance, and the first customer I asked said yes. I couldn't believe it. Even more unbelievable, he came back a few days later and asked me to take his picture again. A few customers later, I was getting the hang of offering a free dildo show in exchange for a picture or two (a ten dollar value!) and to my surprise, people were saying yes!
In Ken's class the following week, other students were showing pictures of their lives, walking the dog, making coffee, boyfriends, school, and so on, and when I showed mine, you could hear everyone's brains popping. It was so memorable, Ken Kobre wrote and published a story about me. That story and the accompanying photos managed to stir up a raging scandal within the National Press Photographer's Association.
I continued shooting pictures of consenting customers for a year, and it's really what inspired me to keep working there. I finally quit and ran off to Russia on a new adventure and never worked there again.
This collection of photographs has been shown at the Tate Modern in London, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York and Camerawork Gallery in San Francisco, to name a few. They have been published in a number of magazines, including Nerve - Literate Smut, and finally, after more than 25 years of trying, a book is soon to be published.
These days I am a much different person than who I was when I shot these pictures, but am still very proud of them.
It is not my intention to disrespect or harm the people in these photographs by showing them to the public. I am ever grateful to them for allowing me to document the experience.
I would enjoy your feedback, and if you are interested in purchasing a print, just let me know. Thanks for looking.
-- Cammie Toloui