Exhibit | Jan Rattia: Tease
Photo: “Smoke and Mirrors,” 2012, Chromogenic print.
For better or for worse, strippers have become one of the most popular and enduring images of sex workers today. As pop culture continues to embrace and celebrate what was once an underground phenomenon, the aesthetics of stripper culture have found their way into the limelight. However, this tends to apply more often than not to the image of women as stripper; male strippers continue to maintain the taboo edge, presenting a complex and compelling image of masculinity.
Venezuelan-born photographer Jan Rattia has spent nearly two years traveling across the United States to photograph members of the fraternity of male strippers. From Washington, D.C. to Atlanta, from Miami to Phoenix, and back to New York, Rattia takes us behind the curtains and reveals the men as they are: beautifully built creatures who embody a deeply desirable aesthetic that can be highly profitable.
Yet, Rattia does not show us what we expect; this is not an oiled up menu of beefcake. Instead, Rattia presents the men in a softer, more subdued light, allowing gentle nuances of the individual to appear in their portraits. Photographed at home or backstage, Rattia shows us the men not merely as symbols of masculinity but as individuals with their own depth of emotion and psychological complexities. The photographs are currently on view in Jan Rattia: Tease, now at ClampArt, New York, through May 21, 2016.
Rattia observes, “Each of the strippers has a story, in many cases mundane and generally unexpected. Most are straight, even though they clearly welcome the attention of other males. They may be students, businessmen, investors, and even doctors, or nothing more than what they appear.”
Rattia’s photographs combine a cinematic and painterly touch, adding a sense of mystery and an impenetrable depth to the portraits. We see the men in various states, sometimes primping backstage, preparing for their performances, and making sure they look their best; other times we see them in a more reflecting state, looking away from the camera, lost in their own private thoughts.
Tease gives us a sense of the dual lives that exist. As writer Michael Callahan observes, “[Rattia] photographed one dancer who was an airline pilot; another was a boxer. Yet another was pursuing his MBA.” Armed with this knowledge, we cannot simply consider the familiar tale of woe that infests so much of the culture writ large; these are not men who have hit rock bottom; these are men who have discovered a means to make good money through the give and take of erotic performance.
Rattia takes males strippers off the sidelines of culture and puts them center stage, allowing us to consider the qualities that make masculinity both a performance to enjoy, and a means of communicating with the audience. His photographs remind us that within the flesh a heart beats and a soul lives.
All photos: © Jan Rattia, courtesy of ClampArt, New York City
Miss Rosen is a New York-based writer, curator, and brand strategist. There is nothing she adores so much as photography and books. A small part of her wishes she had a proper library, like in the game of Clue. Then she could blaze and write soliloquies to her in and out of print loves.