Monday, January 26, 2009

I am Your Biggest Fan!

"Self Portrait as Nico. Counting Money in Dressing Room", 1995

In the winter of 1995, I was sitting on the cold tile floor of the dressing room in a strip club in Rockland County. I was doing what I did every night--counting my money midway through my 4pm to 4am shift. I was tired. I needed a dancer's working vacation in the sun. I set my sights on Hawaii since my friend, Kaylani and a friend of hers named Bella were going out there anyway. I had my dark hair cut into a bob and had it perfectly tinted a shade of blond that realistically matched the color of my olive skin or at least I thought so. I decided to go from the harsh east coast stage name of "Nico" to the softer and more cutesy name "Jesse" to fit my new hairdo.

Over the next 10 months, I flew back and forth from NYC to Honolulu about 3 times, breaking up my time between the two cities as if I was living between two neighboring states. For months at a time, I lived out of an inexpensive high rise hotel with a weekly rate on the less touristy side of Waikiki.

It was sunny everyday in Hawaii with the classic rainbow over beautifully volcanic chiseled mountains and yet, my mood remained as sallow as the color of the room where I lived. With or without my dangling chili pepper lights, candles, incense and the magazine cut outs, that I had plastered all over the walls to make it feel more homey, my days before running off to work felt like I was living in solitary. In a room, full of beige and orange interwoven cushions on furniture to match the variant bedspread, I felt the lingering presence of some malicious hotel interior designer who thought it would be the most practical to maintain an aura of hideous ennui for many many years to come.

The following Polaroids are bits of my personal treasure-trove, memories of working in a "theatre" strip club in a strip mall on Kapiolani.

Two of the photos are from Queens and New Jersey, but all have one theme in common. I decided to have a "fan photo" taken with various feature dancers as a mimicry of customers who often paid for the same service, in order to take a token of the nights evening, and the dancer, away and home with them.

"Nico and Scandalous in New Jersey", 2006.

"Jesse and Minka", Hawaii, 1995

"Jesse, Braven and Unknown Feature Dancer", Hawaii, 1995

"Jesse and Unknown Feature #2", Hawaii, 1995.

"Jesse and Unknown Feature #3", Hawaii, 1995.

"Nico and the Ray Sisters", Queens, NYC, (1993?).

"Jesse with Unknown Feature Dancer #4", 1995.

The following is an excerpt from my book, "Lapdancer" from powerHouse Books, 2003.

"The stripper lifestyle has its own comforting and predictable routine. Sleeping until 11:00 a.m. (or later, as the week progresses), I drag my tired body out of bed across my studio apartment. A sore body is a reminder of a night well spent, money made, counted, and stashed in forever changing hiding places. Mysteriously browned and callused knees and elbows offer further evidence of my nightly pursuits. Some mornings, I awake still brooding over a night when I have fallen below my average, and berate myself for my lack of motivation on the job or some other possible personal defect that might explain falling short of my quota.

A shower would follow, then a walk into the daylight to a local restaurant where I would sit alone, ponder my future, and reward myself with a sensible non-fattening meal in my trendy Manhattan neighborhood. I hardly had time to hand wash my costumes. They smell of cigarettes, sweat, and the sweet perfumes customers complement me on. Instead I opt for a nap, awake, pop three Advil, and an hour later pick up a double espresso on the run, toting my work duffel bag filled with my best moneymakers—a tight leopard-print dress, a silver Brazilian bikini, a sequined mini, and stiletto heels. One might have thought I was just another ballet dancer running off to a class in the middle of the day.

At first it was buses, trains, and taxis; then later, private drivers like Aman, the yellow cabbie who doubled as my therapist, forever bolstering my spirits like a trainer with his boxer before entering the ring. We would make the usual stops: coffees, brownies, bottles of Jack Daniels. Several blocks before arriving at the designated club, I would let out a sigh. No, I don’t want to go. I’m too tired. I’m sick of the men and I’m even sick of the girls.

He teases me, “Do you want to go home?”
“No,” I reply.

Next came Aramis, the crazy-eyed driver from Uruguay who charged less than Aman, but with him there would always be the risk of getting into some sort of collision, like the time we hydroplaned across three lanes on the Westside Highway, hit a marker on the side of the road, and flipped his Suburban. But the price was right and I was determined to keep expenses low, even at the risk of dying next to a man whose conversational skills consisted of “Hi, Nico.”
The structure I’d created for myself was satisfying for the most part because I immediately saw the results of my hard labor. Here I was, an unskilled worker, earning double what my friends in “straight” jobs were making.

I loved the music, dancing on stage, and the instant connections I made with fellow dancers—and at times, even with customers. For eight hours on nights I danced, I was taking a break from my own complex and contradictory life. In reality I rarely dreaded going to work, unlike with other jobs I had had in the past. Dancing felt emotionally cathartic, empowering, and at times just like another creative extension of myself. I developed my dancing style partially by mimicking other dancers and partly through trial and error. I performed five days a week to a normally adoring public. Sometimes it felt like being a rock star, or what I imagined being a rock star might feel like: discounts on hotels, personal drivers, and makeup."

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Victoria Number 1

I Miss You Victoria Blue

You let me tie you up in
spaghetti strap camisoles
and buy you a flowery dress.

Except for that once,
I promised
to sit and stay besides you
at the hairdresser.
Your hair cropped in layers
every four months.

"Victoria on My Parents Couch", 2008.

Not even a year ago
you lay rigid and softly
upon my parents divan
I steadied the strobe light
above you.

You are regal white,
shockingly blue.
What makes you look like this?
You didn't know what to say.

Sweet fragility
found a new home
only three blocks away.

I held on
behind my new camera
with no more secrets
left to tell you.


What made me do it?

Check out a slice of my childhood memories, not to mention, the early influences of photography which led me down the road to a life of a destitution.

It's all up on NYMPHOTO,
a place where the other photo gender (yep, we are still around dammit') has the place to show off her work and talk about it! The list of fabulous and talented photographers whom have talked about their work is daunting...and personally, I find them really inspiring and hopeful as a W-O-M-Y-N!

Support the women who support wayward PhotoWomen such as myself.

Thanks, to the women of NYMPHOTO for giving me the space to speak!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

I-Gavel Auction Ending in 23 Hours

Hi Brothers and Sisters:

The Daniel Cooney Gallery with the I-Gavel Auction will end approximately in 23 hours. So, fly like the dickens and shop for cheap savings on beautiful work! And of course, look at my photograph of "Joshua and His Brother" which is still very reasonable.

Just a sweet reminder.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Farewell Dr. Sonner

X-Ray from abdominal view of my dog Moishe's, heart.

X-Ray View of Moishe's Heart from lateral Position.
Notice light white areas showing possible first signs of Mitral Valve Disease.

January 14, 2009 @ 7:16 PM

Dear Dr. Sonner:

I decided not to come and see you anymore. I can't afford to see you because I no longer have enough money to pay for health insurance with Oxford. Therefore, I can’t pay out of pocket for once a month visits with you. We had spoken about this on several occasions. Despite, my fears of economic destitution, you have not been willing to change your policy, allowing me to come less frequently. In the past, I worked with doctors whom only expected me make visits 4 times a year, in order to check the status of my condition or fiddle with my medications. I would see the psychiatrist more often should my depression become less manageable.

Presently, I would self-diagnose my condition as a clinical depression with the occasional massive mood shifts towards mania. I am certainly not in remission, and definitely, beyond the state of my usual Dysthymia.

I have not called you or in your case, e-mailed you, about my emotional upheaval because I learned from the past that it was absolutely pointless. I have become accustomed to sitting in your waiting room many times over the last couple of years, in a depressive state, but made a clear decision before entering your office that I would not share this information with you. There were times that I feigned happiness in your presence when I could do nothing more than lay on my sofa and cry for days.

After three years plus, you never changed my medications in order to find a way to ease me from my emotional pain. The best you did was up my Lamictal or increase my Nardil by 15 mg. This is the same recipe of medications, plus the others, that Dr. Silverstein had prescribed me when I left his care years ago. What was the point of telling you how I felt or filling out those redundant Xerox sheets with my improvement or my decline, when I knew I would walk out the door with the same ol’ prescriptions? In other words, my old feelings of helplessness increased and I started to believe once again that no doctor could help me, let alone you. Perhaps, I am drug resistant.

I don't believe in my heart that everything has been exhausted...I need to work with a sensitive and creative physician. Someone who can work in tandem with my therapist.

There were days, I walked into your office, considering how quickly, I could get out of your office with the prescriptions in hand. I would put a smile on my face, bite down on anger, pick up the recipes and get out the door as quickly as I could. Perhaps, to you, my depression/anxiety or as you had yourself diagnosed me, on my first intake, “Bi-Polar 2 Disorder” seemed under control. In fact, I was exhausted and resigned to feigning my emotions in your presence.

I have never had to talk with any doctor through e-mails, nor has my therapist. Natasha whom also agrees that it is bizarre and unprofessional you did not want to communicate with her on the phone. It's frankly impersonal and on a fundamental level, I don't feel like you care about me. As you know I have a long history of terrible neglect. Yes, it would have been reaffirming if you could have simply picked up the phone over the last months when I did not make any appointments.

I created a lie and told you I was leaving the country for France and never mentioned a word about picking up my prescriptions prior to this fantasy trip. Instead of hearing directly from you, I began to find messages on my voice mail from one of your revolving intern secretaries. Maybe at least, a detached e-mail from you, would have made me feel like my presence and my health mattered.

I am now in a daily struggle and yet, I refuse to come back to you. This is not a personal problem with you, but completely professional. I have decided to see one of Dr. Silverstein’s colleagues who has made himself available when I need him. Again, as you know, I no longer have insurance, and having a doctor available when I need him or expects only quarterly visits is a relief to my financial worries.


Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Lucky on Lens Culture

Writing in my journal across the street from Pere Lachaise.
Note consistent state of melancholia...
Not to mention custom made scratches on my negs from lame lab out in Los Angeles.

I am very pleased to announce that this week I am featured on Jim Casper's, Lens Culture. The international photo magazine is running a slide show of my work from the Rockaways.

Last year, I met Jim at an ongoing slide show called Food for Your Eyes, run by the fabulous and exotic, Nathalie Belayche in a studio near Pere Lachaise.

Nathalie mixes a variety show of photographers from around the world. She also serves a platter of grapes and cheese and bottles of wine fit to fill any photophile. Not to mention, she is class A curator and agent.

That evening, I slipped Jim a DVD of my "Last Stop: Rockaway Park" while the lights were down. I suggest you do the same thing, in moments, when you find yourself in the dark in the presence of curators, photo critics, and all of them. I must thank Mary Virginia Swanson for packaging tips on putting together a fantastic little self-promotion.

Ironically, at the end of my trip, I rented a place right across the street from the cemetery walls of Pere Lachaise. For two weeks, a bobble head balloon with an unrecognizable face, remained inflated and entangled in a tree inside the boundaries of this famous last retreat. "He," I believe, was masculine. He watched me move about aimlessly, from room to room, mocking me for days through rainy Parisian windows, until one day we became two lonely companions of the heart.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Bogart and Snickers

"Phil on Christmas Morning, 2008"

I was half-asleep on Christmas Eve in a studio out in Rockaway Park . Phil came in the door. I looked at the digital alarm clock, 4:15 AM. "Here, Darling". He threw an extra long Snickers on the bed next to me as if he was throwing a bundle of hard cash, after a grueling night shift. He brought me home a Snickers bar every night since I had arrived two days ago.

"Where were you?" We could have been a married couple after sharing a one room studio apartment for only a couple of days.

"Out at the bar," he said.

His eyes always look downward, making the rare eye contact. He scanned the floor. With a massive hand engulfing his skull, he began to scratch and swoop his hair back, the same way only men with short hair cuts are privy to do in this world. The same soulful gesture you might imagine Marlon Brandon doing in a moment of confusion or defeat in a movie from the fifties.

"Which bar?". I already felt like I had missed out on something fun.

"Kerry Hill." "I ran into Trish and we ended up talking for a bit."

I always wondered how people can spend hours in a bar talking to the same people all the time without some purpose. My life has been bound to purpose, reason and without both, socializing can seem like falling into a busted fishnet. I envied Phil and everyone else who could go out and banter the nights away, while I was white knuckling scores of "to do" lists on Christmas Eve.

I tore into the Snickers with my teeth and before he could even turn around to look at me from the kitchenette against the opposite wall, I had gobbled it down. I felt the caramel and chocolate leftovers stuck to my teeth. I would wait for the early morning sun, get up to brush my teeth in the shared bathroom, in between, his apartment and his neighbors.

After a couple of nights, camping out here, shooting in the day and watching Turner Classics while convalescing late evenings and mornings, I felt at home here. I almost always feel more at home in other people's homes than in my own, especially, when they are not at home.

Dear Phil,

Thanks for letting me spend the night.

Thanks for buying me diet cokes and snicker bars.

Thanks for making me a beautiful eggs over medium sandwich on wheat toast.

And hours of Bogart to watch on two separate televisions facing one another on opposing sides of your studio.

And most of all a hide-out during the holidays.

With affection,

Sunday, January 4, 2009

I Gavel Online Auction with Daniel Cooney Gallery

"Joshua and His Brother"

One of my photographs entitled "Joshua and His Brother" is part of the I Gavel Online Auction represented by the Daniel Cooney Gallery. The image is up for grabs at the starting bid of $200. for the next 17 days.

I took this image while in the south of Mexico in 2006. Joshua the older son comes from a family of 6 children and two parents. The mother was once a Mennonite who had abandoned the community . Her second husband and father to 4 of the children is a Mexican fisherman. They live in a crowded 3 room shack on stilts, sharing bedrooms.

I plan to continue this project in April of this year, living for one month with one family in a Mennonite farm community.

Friday, January 2, 2009

"Last Stop: Rockaway Park" Published in View Magazine

"Charlie Cowboy"

"Isabelle's Room" and "Butchie Under Covers"

I am very pleased and honored to announce my work on the Rockaways is on the cover of
View Magazine out of Belgium. Not only was I blessed to be on the cover, but they published 9 spreads of my work!

The design is inspiring and impeccable. The editor in chief, Stephan de Broyer and his team made a strong edit of the work, as well as creating a flawless design. So much so, that I begin to see my work in a different and new light.

I also need to thank Marc Vausort, the curator of Le Musee de La Photographie in Charleroi, Belgium for writing a lovely critique of my work and my influences.

You can find the magazine in art establishments and on stands in England, France and of course, Belgium. You can also buy it from their site. It is also translated into three languages.