Up close and powerful photos of Houston’s most legendary strip club

Up close and powerful photos of Houston’s most legendary strip club

Photographer Adrienne Raquel celebrates the athleticism and artistry of the dancers at Club Onyx, offering an intimate view of the profession through a female lens.

The first time Houston native Adrienne Raquel stepped into Club Onyx, she knew there was a story to tell: one that centred the power, style, and creativity of Black Southern women performing at the legendary strip club.

Immortalised in songs by Megan Thee Stallion and Drake, Onyx has built a reputation for honouring exotic dancing as an art form in its own right. Possessed with an inimitable blend of athleticism and artistry, the women who take the stage are sirens, vixens, and stars who have transformed the conversation around sex work.

Inspired by golden-era video vixens from her youth in the ‘90s and ‘00s, Raquel set forth to chronicle these women in her new book, ONYX. With it, Raquel celebrates the hypnotic power of female sexuality in a series of candy-coloured scenes of beauty and bliss.

Offering a counterpoint to more traditional depictions of sex work, Raquel taps into the dancers’ sensuality without objectifying them. “Most of the time, in these spaces, women are seen through male eyes,” she says. “As a woman, I see them through a different light. It’s all about the ladies, and my goal above all else is to highlight their physicality and artistry, as well as the human being within them. These are everyday women.”

As a woman photographing a space largely devoted to male desire and fantasy, Raquel offers a wholly new approach by removing men altogether from the story she tells, so that viewers can see this world through her eyes. “It was imperative for me to focus only on the women,” she says. “As you look through the images, you can almost put yourself in the front row and feel what’s going on. It’s very up close.”

From perfectly laid edges to flawless pedicures, the women of Club Onyx have attended to every single detail of their costume and performance. With the understanding a great set requires strength, skill, and agility while wearing little more than six-inch platforms, Raquel photographs the dancers on the pole, their skin glistening, muscles honed to perfection like superheroes.

“The dancers are very regal and goddess-like,” says Raquel, who brought the women to New York City when the series debuted at Fotografiska in 2021. “Everyone was looking at their photos and giving them praises,” she says. “For a lot of the ladies, it was their first time in New York and they got to see themselves in a museum, which is really fucking awesome.”

As one of the photographers featured in Antwaun Sargent’s landmark 2019 book, The New Black Vanguard: Photography Between Art and Fashion, Raquel has become an integral force in shaping a new era of Black aesthetics and iconography.

“Her work as broken glass ceilings for Black female photographers. Now, for this passion project she has turned her lens towards a community of underrepresented artists in her hometown,” writes Nandi Howard, Content Director of Essence, in the book’s introduction.

“Onyx displays the empowerment and inclusivity in strip clubs that society had ignored. As captured by Raquel, the night club experience is revealed with layered meaning – granting the chance for the performers to be seen as elevated as the culture they influence.”

Adrienne Raquel's Onyx is published by Damiani and available now.

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