The beauty of the strip club experience told through the female gaze

Best-known for photographing musicians such as Megan Thee Stallion, Adrienne Raquel’s debut monograph sees the imagemaker turn her lens on the performers at Houston’s most famous strip club

Adrienne Raquel has a knack for creating images that are rooted in nostalgia and fantasy, while remaining fresh and contemporary. Based between Houston, New York and LA, the photographer has shot top musical talent including Lil Nas X and Lizzo, done covers for the likes of Vanity Fair, and collaborated with brands such as Savage x Fenty.

To gain a better insight into Raquel’s identity as an artist though, you only need to look at her personal series Onyx. Shot during 2020, it saw the imagemaker turn her lens on a community of underrepresented artists in her hometown, as she documented the performers at the iconic Houston nightclub, which is regularly name-checked by the likes of Drake and Megan Thee Stallion.

Originally displayed at Fotografiska New York, the photos now form the basis for the artist’s debut monograph of the same name. Captured in Raquel’s signature glossy style, they range from powerful images of dancers mid-movement through to more intimate moments, which offer us a window into the community the women have built in the privacy of their locker room.

One thing that is noticeably absent from the images are the men who regularly frequent Onyx. It was a conscious decision by the photographer, who has built a following as a Black woman photographing other women through the female gaze. By focusing on the performers themselves, the series elevates the images from straight reportage to curated and highly intentional.

Even today, stripping is still steeped in the judgement often levied at sex workers, as well as exclusive body standards. In contrast, Raquel’s captivating imagery portrays the empowerment and inclusivity in strip clubs that society has tended to ignore.

“At Club Onyx, strippers step on stage displaying their bodies, strength, and seduction, but there’s a virtue to this particular space,” writes Essence content director, Nandi Howard, in the book’s introduction. “‘They don’t get naked’ is a common idiom to describe the club’s ambience. Performers there take the word ‘stripper’, and negotiate what that means to them, on their own terms.”

Onyx is published by Damiani;