ONE Archive in Los Angeles are currently showcasing the recently donated, provocative photo essay, ‘Market Street Cinema’ by Leon Mostovoy that documents the personal lives of the lesbian prostitutes working as dancers in the titled San Francisco strip club between 1987 and 1988.
Transgender Mostovoy is an artist and photographer that started photographing the sex industry’s women after witnessing many of his lovers and friends making a living within it. Through knowing one of the dancers, Mostovoy was able to grant access beyond the stage of the Market Street Cinema strip club and started photographing an account of the women’s lives in the dressing rooms. The result is a series of personal photographs that show character and individuality within their profession of controlled and choreographed sexuality.
The photographs feature aspects of the dancers, their profession and their environment that don’t transcend to their stage; Mostovoy captures their relationships, the camaraderie and brief encounters with customers, as well as subtly bearing truth to the dark and often shabby preconceptions of the sex industry. Speaking on his own work, Mostovoy said that he sought to capture the ‘nuanced softness found underneath the rough exteriors of the dancers’; many of the images on display feature the women alone at a point of introspection and are melancholic in their evocation.
The series documents the struggles and triumphs of being a woman in this particular landscape. It aims (and succeeds) in normalising expectations of women within both the sex industries and homosexual culture. The photographs are hauntingly intimate and pure, a voyeuristic peep into what reads as any other 80s female pursuit by night; they retouch make-up, dance nude, inspect reflections in mirrors and smoke on the stairs. Though the title of the photo essay roots these personalities in their place of work, Mostovy’s women aren’t defined purely by their profession or sexuality.
Market Street Cinema is rooted in the 80s’ San Francisco gay community at a time when old school lesbian feminists were pitting themselves against the young and sex positive lesbians who felt public flaunting of their raw sex was an expression of their feminism. Young lesbians saw working in the sex industry as a vehicle for accessing and addressing power, control and capital through the liberation and control of their own bodies and sexuality (one uncanny photograph features a t-shirt printed with Thatcher’s face overlain by the rioted statement ‘WE ARE ALL PROSTITUTES’). Mostovoy hails them as women who ‘forged new ground and turned patriarchy on its ear’; these women were truly radical at a time still fraught with suppression for women and gays. Market Street Cinema is an unknown chapter of American LGBQT history.
Mostovoy’s work stands as a tribute to the women photographed, to the sex positive lesbian feminists he so well knew and admired. ‘This series is particularly dear to my heart as these women were friends and we shared love and life together’, he said, ‘hard, dirty, brilliant, punk rock, fierce’.
Leon Mostovoy: Market Street Cinema is on show at ONE National Gay and Lesbian Archives in Los Angeles
January 23rd – March 21st 2015
More information can be found here.