by Henry Horenstein
Pond Press, 2010.
Review by John Mathews
Show documents the flamboyant performers of the neo-burlesque movement in a variety of US cities between 2001 and 2009. The term neo-burlesque is a press tag used to describe a new type of transgressive burlesque that has emerged over the last ten years, which combines old time vaudeville or sideshow entertainment with the ethos of post feminism and gender bending. The photographs are taken in stark black and white and have a grainy candidness that is reminiscent of Weegee’s pictures from the 1940’s of Bowery bar dwellers and entertainers.
Horenstein intimately captures the intensity, sweat, guts and glitter that go into these surreal stage performances. One such image entitled George Bush, Southpaw Brooklyn, shows a knife brandishing topless woman wearing an oversized mask of George Bush whilst stage blood streams down her chest. Mixed in with these candid performance shots are more staged studio photos that zone in on details that would be difficult to capture within the context of a live performance such as the close-up of the double whip wielding Danyella de Meux who thrashes through the air elegantly attired in long silk gloves.
The photographs mix moments of glamour with the bizarre grittiness of the burlesque scene such as the bruised knees and scuffed shoes. The more striking photographs for me were the understated and less sensational images of performers arriving at the clubs or hanging out back stage, like the photograph Freida Fries. A straight on portrait shot of a transvestite performer standing outside of a bar, she wears a large bouffant wig, a single motorcycle glove and a fake fur coat that revels chest hair beneath. These particular images seem more informal and subtly record the rawness and trangressiveness of the burlesque sub-culture. Show is an entertaining walk on the wild side that explores the flamboyance and joie de vivre of a unique community of performers.