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Photography Morgan Charlton

No boys allowed: photos from the locker room of an NYC strip club

Based in New York City, photographer and dancer Morgan Charlton’s latest zine takes us backstage at Sapphire Strip Club

As a young girl photographer and dancer Morgan Charlton, similar to most teenage girls, used to buy teen magazines from grocery stores. Filled with stickers, advice columns, pull-out posters of teenaged heartthrobs and infinite amounts of ‘which boy band girl are you’ quizzes, the pages of Tiger Beat, Bop and Teen Beat have been pinnacles of tween culture for decades. Tapping into those pages, Charlton’s newest zine channels the nostalgia of those magazines in the early 2000s. Celebrating the power of femininity, friendship and the community she witnesses at her strip club, the playful essence of the zine is reminiscent of a girlhood-like innocence most of us once had.

Originally from Madison, Wisconsin, Charlton first began dancing when she was 22 at a club in Boulder, Colorado. Eventually, she made her way to New York City and after working at an underground club she did not feel aligned with, she started at Sapphire, a club on the Upper East Side in 2021. Up until this point, her creative work and career dancing did not cross paths. Instead, she led two separate lives, hustling as a stylist assistant and photographer during the day and dancing at night. “Then I finally thought, why am I hiding this part of my life? Especially when so much inspiration comes out of the club for me,” she explains to Dazed. “So much of my work is inspired by strip club culture and will continue to inspire my work in the future.“

Entitled Sunny Sapphire, the zine is an extension of her previous photo series Stripper Duality, which was the first time she revealed to many people she was a dancer. “Before that, only my very close friends knew,” she says. “Originally I wanted to turn that photo project into a zine, but I just kept taking more photos whenever I was working. So most of the photos were taken over the course of a year after releasing Stripper Duality.

Shot primarily in the locker room of Sapphire, the images retain an air of positivity, something Charlton was set to achieve. “There can be a lot of heaviness in the club but at this point, I didn’t feel like I wanted to capture any of that, just the fun sexy silliness of it all,” she explains. Shifting her focus to the beauty in wholesome and intimate moments, throughout the zine we see her fellow dancers help each other out with their hair and lashes, getting ready, picking out outfits and telling stories to each other. “It’s the moments most people would never see unless they're a dancer. There’s a lot of power, freedom, and confidence that comes from being a stripper. You can make a lot of money through your divine feminine energy.” 

Crediting her fellow dancers Draya and Cali as her main muses, Charlton met the main duo when she first joined Sapphire. Throughout the zine, Charlton documents their dynamic and playful spirit through selected playlists and images of them in their uniform styled by her friend Brandon Tan. “Strippers are the mood board. They inspire so much fashion, music and culture. Strippers are artists, businesswomen, passionate and driven,” she says, speaking on the power she recognises in her peers. “We can’t be put into a box or defined as this or that. Strippers are some of the most spiritual and intelligent women I've met, so in-tune with other people's energies and their own goals.”

Head to the gallery above to check out images from the zine.