Wanting You to Want Me, by photographer Bronwen Parker-Rhodes and writer Emily Dinsdale, shares honest, intimate stories from strippers working in London
Dazed art writer Emily Dinsdale and photographer Bronwen Parker-Rhodes connected over their mutual drive to preserve the world they had encountered while working as dancers in strip clubs. “It was like entering a really unique ecosystem… the unusual mix of sexuality, mundanity, and performance, the amazing women, the stories, the array of customers, the best conversations I’d ever had, all conducted in this environment where the pace of intimacy was accelerated and everything felt intensified,” Dinsdale tells Dazed. “It’s a place where fascinating interactions take place.”
In an attempt to capture this unique environment, the pair began sifting through Parker-Rhodes’s intimate photographs – all taken inside London’s strip clubs – in 2018. The images were taken over the past 20 years, and were joined by a series of anonymous voice interviews with other dancers working in the city. Collated, these stories have now come to form a new book, titled Wanting You to Want Me.
The publication brings readers inside the often “unexplored and prohibited” spaces in strip clubs – from the floor to the stage, private dance areas, and changing rooms – telling first-hand, confessional stories voiced by the dancers themselves. “The conversations that happen in strip club changing rooms are some of the most honest, hilarious and educational I’ve ever had,” explains Parker-Rhodes. “I want the reader to feel like they’re sitting next to Bex, Amy, Lola, Katie as they get ready for a shift, feel included in their intimate conversations.”
Alongside creating an oral history of experiences held in these often misconceived and endangered spaces (just this month, Edinburgh voted to ban strip clubs entirely in the city), these narratives touch on tales of female friendships, camaraderie, sex work, body image, beauty, shame, desire, hustling, and objectification – sharing honest insight into the complex world of stripping.
In the book’s introduction, the authors explain their mistrust of mainstream narratives of strippers, which tend to oscillate between victimising strippers and sex workers or iconising them as figures of sexual emancipation. “It was really crucial to us to try and resist those very polarised ideas of stripping,” says Dinsdale. “We didn’t want to impose one overarching narrative on what is actually, in our experience, a very complicated subject. Our book is fraught with subjectivity, but it’s multiple subjective responses… so the overall impression is complicated and enlarged by contradictions and differing experiences.”
“It was really crucial to us to try and resist those very polarised ideas of stripping. Our book is fraught with subjectivity, but it’s multiple subjective responses… so the overall impression is complicated and enlarged by contradictions and differing experiences” - Emily Dinsdale
She continues: “Allowing space for those ambiguities to exist was really important to us.”
One vignette from the book spotlights a dancer named Giselle who impulsively pretends to be French in her first audition at 18-years-old because she thinks she’ll appear sexier. In the book, she admits to have “Frenched herself into a corner”, having to maintain the persona for 15 years while stripping. “There are still people out there who think I’m French,” she says.
Another dancer, Havana, shares an encounter with a male customer who – despite her attempts to keep the mood upbeat – shares poignant insights into his own reality, from cat photo-filled camera rolls to lonely barbecues, and Sainsbury’s Basics microwave meals. “The only way for you to justify what you are being a part of is – I mean, for me, personally – keeping it as light and as funny as possible,” she confesses in the book. “But sometimes the dark part of it is, I realise I’m the only one laughing.”
While these stories take place in strip clubs, both authors agree that the narratives ultimately reveal a unique insight into universally shared feelings. “Ultimately, the stories in this book are about real human connections and experiences,” says Parker-Rhodes. “I think that will resonate with everyone, not just sex workers and strippers.”
However, Dinsdale adds: “For the strippers who read it, I hope they feel some sort of ownership over it and that it does justice to their best and worst memories. I hope they feel pulses of recognition as they read, and that it feels like being among friends.”
Swipe through the gallery above for a first look at the images in Wanting You to Want Me.
Wanting You to Want Me by Bronwen Parker-Rhodes and Emily Dinsdale is available in the UK from April 14 and in America and Australia from May 17.