Benrubi Gallery is pleased to present Heaven is a Strip Club, Rachel Lena Esterline's first exhibition with the gallery. Rachel has spent the last five years documenting women who are sex workers. In 2013, she entered a strip club on a freelance gig where she was hired to take marketing photos of the entertainers.
Up until that point, Rachel had been conditioned by her father - a Christian pastor to only understand strippers as downtrodden women with few prospects. Almost immediately, her feelings of shame and sadness morphed into feelings of admiration and respect for these women as pillars of strength in charge of their own destiny. Over the course of five years, Rachel has built lasting relationships with each subject, attending college graduations, baby showers and art openings with women she now calls her sisters. Through the medium of photography, Rachel seeks to shatter stereotypes and works to lift the deadly stigma surrounding sex work. Disinterested in the salacious and superficial, her ethereal portrayals of women are unapologetically beautiful celebrations of women who take off their clothes for a living.
“I grew up very sheltered. I wasn’t even allowed to listen to secular music. Halloween was a night when we turned off all the lights so kids wouldn’t come knocking on our door. Eventually I performed quintessential acts of teenage rebellion, and broke down the walls built up inside me, the conditioning of my upbringing by both family and society. I had first been to the Gold Club in San Francisco 18 years ago. I was auditioning to be a stripper, and it didn’t end up working out. It wasn’t until 13 years later when I walked back into that same club with a camera in my hands that I felt so comfortable and confident that this was my purpose in life - to tell the stories of these women from the radical position of respect. Capturing the life and hustle of these women has been a life-affirming experience where I have discovered community, ambition, goddess and art.”