Some people travel the world in search of adventure, while others look for cultural landmarks, culinary experiences, natural wonders, or both. On the other hand, during his most recent trip across the United States, French photographer François Prost was looking for something completely different: strip bars
The most recent book by Prost, “Gentlemen’s Club,” follows his journey across the United States through nearly 150 strip clubs with names like “Pleasures,” “Temptations,” and “Cookies N’ Cream.” However, Prost’s camera was only focused on the buildings themselves, specifically their often-colorful facades, so there isn’t a single naked woman to be seen.
In 2019, he traveled over 6,000 miles in five weeks, taking photos of everything from Florida’s Club Pink Pussycat’s pastel colors to venues hidden in plain sight in the country’s more religious states.
I’d classify these locations into two categories: In an email and video call with CNN, Prost stated, “One is very much integrated into the public landscape, and one is a little bit more hidden and dodgy.”
He added that the first kind could be found in places that were “very American,” like “around amusement parks, fast food, and malls.” The last settings, nonetheless, would in some cases look undefined from any store in a strip shopping center. Prost said he tracked down numerous such foundations along the Holy book Belt, a socially safe locale in the nation’s south. Due to the apparent contrast between what he calls “conservatism and extreme puritanism” in his book and the prevalence of strip clubs, he was particularly eager to investigate the region.
Prost insisted that he didn’t care much about the services or interiors of the strip clubs he always went to during the day. Instead, by taking objective, documentary-style photographs of establishments at the intersection of sex, gender, and commerce, he hoped to gain a deeper understanding of American culture. He added that the series was primarily a landscape photography project and documented shifting attitudes toward sex through architecture.
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“The crystal of this subject of strip club exteriors turned into an approach to considering and attempting to grasp the country,” he wrote in “Refined men’s Club,” photos from which will highlight in a show in Tokyo in Spring.
“(‘Men of honor’s Club’ is) an objective scene of predominant suppositions and orientation and the sexualization of the ladylike picture.”
‘A bit strange’
- Prost’s 2018 series “After Party,” which focused on the flamboyant facades of French nightclubs, served as the inspiration for the project. He said that people often said that the buildings’ exteriors looked like they were taken right out of American cities, which led to the idea that he should go to the US and make the project bigger.
He was struck not only by the sheer number of strip clubs in the United States but also by the fact that, unlike in Europe, they frequently demanded to be seen as he meticulously planned his trip. Hot pink walls, enormous bare outlines and even sweets stick striped retail facades made no confidential of the sort of diversion gave inside.
“A genuine model would be Las Vegas, where strip clubs are all over and their signs flicker as much as an inexpensive food (eatery) or club sign,” Prost said.
The clubs in Miami were frequently painted in bright, Wes Anderson-like colors. In contrast to their sparse desert surroundings, other photographs depict brightly covered venues.
- According to him, Prost would enter the establishments and request permission to take photographs if they were open during the day in order “to not look suspicious… and explain what my intentions were.” Despite the fact that the interiors rarely lived up to the enticing promises made on the outside, the photographer met a wide range of people during his five-week trip, including bouncers who were uninterested and managers who were thrilled about the project.
He stated, “Most of the time, people were OK — 99% of them would say yes to a facade picture,” adding that, as long as he did not take photos of dancers or patrons, they typically would not mind his presence.
He stated, “Some would think it was a bit strange, some would be really excited about it and give me their business card to send me the picture when it was finished.” Others would think it was a bit strange.
However, Prost stated that his greatest surprise was how “normalized” strip clubs appeared in everyday life. “The relationship that Americans seem to have with strip clubs is quite different from what you see in Europe,” he writes in his book. It appears that going to a strip club is much more common; you go with a partner or with friends to have fun at night.
He was struck, for instance, by the number of Las Vegas strip clubs that also served as restaurants, many of which offered buffets, happy hour deals, and discounts only available to truck drivers or construction workers.
“I saw a couple of strip clubs that would publicize being a strip club and steakhouse, so you could eat a major piece of meat (while) watching strippers. He continued, “That is also something that seems very American to me.” I heard from certain individuals I met in Portland there are even strip clubs (that proposition) veggie lover food.”
Objects of desire
Jokes like “My sex life is like the Sahara, two palms, no dates” and pun-based names like “Booby Trap” and “Bottoms Up” are all over the facades. The surreal comedy of the signs is heightened by Prost’s documentary approach. However, it also serves as a neutral lens through which viewers can decide for themselves whether or not women are objects.
“Gentleman’s Club” explores the commodification of women in Prost’s works by focusing on the faceless dancing bodies of female silhouettes and the classic “girls girls girls” signs (an observation reflected in the book’s title, which is a phrase that appears on signs throughout his photographs). From the numerous food-themed names to an advertisement that read, “1,000’s of beautiful girls & three ugly ones,” the strip clubs he went to promote women as things to eat.
Prost plans to travel to Japan for his next project to document the country’s love hotels, which serve the same purpose as strip clubs in some parts of the United States: loosely held bits of information in a moderate society. However, the photographer is of the opinion that the establishments he visited in the United States convey a singular message about the nation, one that is less about sexuality and more about the American dream.
He stated that his project has shown him the following: It doesn’t matter if your business is successful or not if your activities involve sex.
Between March 17 and April 15, 2023, “Gentlemen’s Club” will be on display at Agnes b. Galerie Boutique in Tokyo, Japan. Fisheye Editions published the book, which can be purchased right now.