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KAM & KALI (2020)
Photography Adrienne Raquel

Flossy photos inside Houston’s most famous strip club

Photographer Adrienne Raquel, who’s captured the likes of Lil Nas X, Megan Thee Stallion, and Selena Gomez, takes us inside the mythic space of Club Onyx, where women reign supreme

Growing up in the 1990s and early 2000s, photographer Adrienne Raquel remembers the era of the video vixen well. Hip Hop honeys like Melyssa Ford, Karrine Steffans, Buffie the Body, Bria Myles, Gloria Velez, Esther Baxter, and Rosa Acosta were like lyrics of Wu Tang Clan’s “Ice Cream” come to life. Transforming eye candy into a fine art, each vixen possessed her own innate style and physicality, and became icons of femininity and stars in their own right.

Raquel came of age at a time when analogue and digital technology first converged. “I grew up in a Black household where at every moment we were tapped into the culture,” she says. “Both of my parents loved music, film, and TV. I grew up feeding into all of it. My dad used to bring home magazines like Jet, Ebony, Vibe, XXL, and The Source. I would look through those magazines, tear out these amazing ads for Rocawear and Baby Phat, and scan them into our computer to create my own graphic art.” 

On the cusp of adolescence, Raquel watched music videos with older cousins, gazing upon the vixens in awe. “What drew me to them as a child and even now at 30, is that these women were crème de la crème, recognised as the celebrities in their own right,” she says, “I was an only child, super introverted, very shy, a late bloomer, and very sheltered. These women had confidence in their sensuality, a sense of power and allure that is something I always wanted to possess – whether growing up, as a teenager, or now as a young lady.”

Although Raquel is a self-described “wallflower,” she’s readily in the mix photographing Travis Scott, Lil Nas X, Megan Thee Stallion, Selena Gomez, fashion, and beauty for T Magazine, Vanity Fair, CR Fashion Book, Dior, and Pat McGrath Labs. Recently featured in Antwaun Sargent’s landmark book in The New Black Vanguard: Photography Between Art and Fashion (Aperture), Raquel now takes centre stage with ONYX, her first solo museum exhibition, on April 22 at Fotografiska New York.

As a teen, Raquel moved to Houston and went to college there, developing her vision as a photographer in H-Town. For years, she dreamed of photographing the dancers at Club Onyx, Houston’s most famous strip club, memorialised in songs by Drake, Travis Scott, and Megan Thee Stallion. “I was like, I want to go!” she remembers. “If you’ve never been to a strip club, it can be a bit jarring. You have these women walking around, the men, the money – it’s a lot to get used to. Once I got beyond the initial allure, I started to pay attention to the dancers, their dynamics, and how they communicate with one another from across the room. I told myself, One day when I make it I’m going to come back and document this – and here we are in 2021.”

Roman philosopher Seneca wisely observed, “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity,” and Raquel embodies this mantra. When asked what work she might like to produce for an exhibition at Fotografiska, the young photographer recalls, “I was so ready and threw it out there with no hesitancy. I was like, The Strip Cluuuub!” Here, Raquel takes us inside a mythic space, a world where women reign supreme, and shares the stories behind the photographs that she made.

Adrienne Raquel: ONYX is on view at Fotografiska New York through September 2021