Matthew Murray, ‘James, Thrust’, 2014, Gallery Vassie

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Series: "Stripper". Matthew Murray: "Photography is about moments, and the Stripper project stems from a completely random moment. Standing in my friend’s flower shop on a normal looking high street, I looked out of the window and watched with curiosity as several bronzed men, wearing very little and with near perfect physiques, were perfecting suggestive dance routines in the adjacent back garden to the shop. It was surreal, surprising, weird and unusual – the only things I’d ever seen in the backyards before were several mechanics having a crafty cigarette or pie as they worked from their commercial garages. After asking my friend what was going on, she explained with a wry smile that it was the UK Pleasure Boys, from Pleasure Ladies Nights, a group of strippers who had their headquarters next-door. 
The Saturday girls at the florists would argue about who was taking the bins out, just for a closer glimpse of the UK Pleasure Boys rehearsing their erotic moves out the back. Overlooked by a pawnbrokers’, charity shops and a chippy, it was amazing to discover that the UK Pleasure Boys are a successful national company, a mini-empire with strippers across the UK and Ireland. Venturing into an empty nightclub in the centre of Birmingham, the atmosphere was muted and melancholy. The UK Pleasure boys were already warming up in the less than glamorous dressing rooms, waiting for the nightclub to fill up with man-hungry women (mostly hen parties). For those very intense two hours, their bodies would no longer be their own. They were handing themselves over to women who were quite literally up for anything. Some of the newer strippers found it unnerving at first; others were well used to the circuit and accepted it as part of the job. Many loved the attention lavished on them and unashamedly gorged themselves on it. All were completely professional in their approach to the work, going to the gym to make sure they were in tip top shape and spending hours perfecting dance routines, all for that two hour performance in front of hundreds of screaming women. And while some of the more rookie strippers were testing the waters by working as topless barmen, others couldn’t wait to, ‘get ‘em off’. I set my portable studio up a couple of hours before the hen parties arrived and began to shoot the portraits. Each stripper’s background was different to the next: one worked for Network Rail, one was a student, another had been stripping for 20 years. Others felt that with a body so beautiful it would be an injustice not to expose it to the world. One stripper compared his body to a work of art, such as the ‘Mona Lisa’. But all of them loved the hedonistic moment on stage when women screamed at them, “Get em off!” I was interested in why they’d chosen to strip and the views were almost always the same: extra cash, great fun, meet girls… enjoyment. But top of the list for all of them was to put on a great show for the punters. None of them were shy in front of the camera, but with the moving image pieces, it was ironic that some of them clearly looked uncomfortable at being asked to stand still and look into the lens without any performance. They were unnerved by it and fidgeted uncomfortably for the two minutes they were asked to stand. While the moving image film showed the strippers bravado stripped bare and exposed a vulnerability in them, the voiceovers are chatty, cheeky and colloquial, explaining what, how and why. But one thing was clear as I watched the women in the audience, screaming, clawing at them, begging them to expose more flesh and writhe in their faces: these were some of the bravest men I’d ever met! "

Signature: Signed, numbered and annotated in ink verso.

Image rights: © Matthew Murray/Gallery Vassie. All rights reserved.

Matthew Murray

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