Former Burlesque Stars Prove Eroticism Has No Age Limit (NSFW)

Former Burlesque Stars Prove Eroticism Has No Age Limit (NSFW)

Warning: This post contains nudity and may not be appropriate for work.


La Savona, Indianapolis Indiana 2012

It takes a brave spirit -- of any age -- to pose for the camera donning nothing but feathers, rhinestones and sparkly heels. To do so post-retirement, however, requires a certain combination of confidence, liberation, fire and sensuality we can only imagine.

In her series "Legends," photographer Marie Baronnet photographs the former legends of American burlesque in all their scantily clad glory. Though aspects of the burlesque performers' attitudes as well as parts of their physical appearance have changed over time, the undeniable spark of eroticism remains, seducing the viewer with a strangely magnetic grip.

Baronnet was inspired to embark on the series after meeting and then interviewing and photographing burlesque icon Dixie Evans. The photo shoot compelled Baronnet to expand the project and seek out other former burlesque luminaries around the country. "I was driven by the desire to work again on women’s representation, with older women, usually not shown with full charge of audacity and femininity," Baronnet explained to The Huffington Post. "Also, I was discovering and investigating their stories just as an ethnologist on individuals of a rare tribe."


Bambi Jones, Henderson Nevada 2012

The word burlesque, derived from Italian burlesco or burla, which means joke or ridicule, can refer to both dramatic and literary parodies caricaturing more serious works. In America, the term has come to refer to a particular variety show format, often incorporating elements of bawdy comedy and striptease. But the tradition has always been about far more than disrobing.

"American burlesque is an authentic art form," explained Baronnet. "It is as modern and contemporary as it is political, an intelligent mix of popular tradition and social avant-garde. It's a strong community where all genders are mixed and celebrated."

Likewise, the women of American burlesque are just as authentic. "These women were pioneers, using their art to conquer for themselves and for other minorities their independence. They were natural activists of the feminist cause, consciously for some, not so much for others. But they all were 'free spirits' at heart, and so bold for their time," she continued.

"For those women, burlesque is an imaginary world of its own, which in my mind makes it a genuine artistic domain of expression, just like painting or cinema. They invented modern 'performance' on stage in direct interaction with their lively audience, plugging into human soul and flesh, dancing with elegance and suggestion, wearing (or 'un-wearing') haute couture costumes, improvising choreographies on live music. Glamour and imagination were thrown at the spectators."


Stephanie Blake, Simi Valley 2013

Baronnet used her investigative skills to track down potential subjects, finding help in the accommodating burlesque community along the way. The photographer collaborated with each of her models on a concept for their image, plotting out a particular attitude, setting and costume for each. "Again, these women are creative and audacious; they are performers by nature, so they were not afraid of my photographic propositions. With each one, the shoot was an adventure that took us beyond the usual 'pin-up' cliché." The images range from playful to contemplative, with some subjects appearing completely unclothed while others don bedazzled bikinis, garter belts and corsets. Partly nostalgic and partly of the moment, the works capture the multiple shades of past and present that make up a human being.

"They see themselves as they are today, and as they are yesterday," said Baronnet. "I never tried to make them look much younger; it was part of the deal and they agreed to it, not afraid of reality. It's a photographic moment where the past meets the present, reflecting on each other, where I state that it's important that older women can be shown, as beautiful, spiritual, inspiring."

In the end, "Legends" chronicles a particular breed of American heroine, while giving us all something to look forward to in our later years. In the words of Baronnet: "There is no age to be a woman and to be alive, and that's eroticism."

You can purchase Baronnet's photography book Legends: The Living Art of Risque, with accompanying interviews, here.

Before You Go

“This is an image that changed everything because, for me, it crystallised the spirit of revolt. The uprising in Tiananmen Square was one of the most moving events I’ve witnessed. It was a tragedy to see unarmed young people shot down in cold blood. It was a movement for freedom of expression, for basic rights, and against the outrage of official corruption. It ended badly, a stain on the reputation of a great country. The facts should not be denied, but discussed, so that people can move on. A lot of things were misreported on both sides. A lot of outside actors were involved that may have worsened the situation for the students and their protest. I want this photograph to be available to people for whom this is an important memory. It symbolises the courage of the time. What it doesn’t show is the bloodshed. I am best known for the image of the tank man. That is called an ‘iconic’ image, but what such images sometimes obscure, with the passing of time, is all the other pictures that lend explanatory power to the story. I’m interested in history, and this landmark event changed my life.” -- Stuart Franklin (Beijing, 1989)
“I met Belinda and Guillermina when they were five years old. They were usually fluttering about while I was photographing their grandmother's animals for my project On the Sixth Day. I'd always shoo them away from the frame until, one day, I turned my attention towards them. That’s when I made this image -- a photograph that marks the beginning of what turned out to be being a long journey with them.” -- Alessandra Sanguinetti (2015)
“The ball bounced. I was home again, in Belfast. That period was a turning point -- many balls in the air, the peace process starting and stopping. It was the start of a journey back home.” -- Donovan Wylie (Ireland, 1999)
“The picture that changed everything? When I fell in love with Sabine and she taught me how to dance. After that moment, I stopped taking pictures to prove anything or to be daring. After that moment, I started taking pictures out of love and curiosity. After that moment, I started dancing. Sabine had put on lipstick, high heels and a polka-dot dress. It’s was the christening of her sister’s first baby. ‘Peqqeraava? Am I beautiful?’ Sabine asked. She lifted her skirt, revealing her star panties and a pair of laddered tights. ‘Lorunaraalid. You’re wonderful.’ I replied, grabbing hold of her and starting to dance. I’ve often watched Sabine dance at the village hall without wanting to join in. But now that we’re alone in her uncle’s house, I surrender to both the dance and Sabine. We danced across tables, chairs and mattresses. Wilder and wilder. Through the open window we can hear the church bells chime but Sabine insists: ‘Aamma, aamma, qilinnermud ilinniardiiatsiikkid!’ (‘More, more. Let me teach you how to dance!’)” -- Jacob Aue Sobol (Greenland, 2001)
“In 1982 I bought the newly released Makina Plaubel 55mm fixed-lens camera. With this shift from 35mm to 6 x 7, I also changed from black and white to colour. Later that year, I started my project on New Brighton called The Last Resort. However, the first project I shot in colour was composed of urban scenes from Liverpool. This image was on the second roll of film. It’s the first good photo I made in this new chapter of my work.” -- Martin Parr (Liverpool, 1984)
“This is a photograph from my project East 100th Street. In 1966, I began to document the neighborhood in Spanish Harlem known as ‘El Barrio.’ At first, I met with the local citizens’ committee, Metro North, to obtain their permission to produce a document that would serve as a calling card, to be presented to local politicians, prospective business investors, and the mayor. The community workers took me around to meet and observe people living in abysmal housing. I witnessed people working together to improve lives and create a place of peace, power, and pride. At that point in American history, we were sending rockets to the moon and waging a futile war in Vietnam. I felt the need to explore the space of our inner cities and document both the problems and the potential there. I photographed the people of East 100th Street and their environment in an open ‘eye to eye’ relationship, using a large bellows camera with its dark focusing cloth. I carried a heavy tripod and a powerful strobe light along with a portfolio of pictures taken in the community. As I stood before the subjects, the physical presence of the classic camera lent a certain respect to the act of photography, placing me in the picture itself.” -- Bruce Davidson (New York City, 1968)
“My wife Ann and I had been digging during the day, transplanting lilies from the front of this abandoned farmhouse back down the road to where we live. We finished. She was tired and laid in the grass. I took a picture. The house is now gone. The walnut trees have been bulldozed and burned. I saw this picture the other day for the first time in years and realized how photographing life within a hundred yards of my front porch had helped me focus on everything I cared about.” -- Larry Towell (Ontario, 1997)
“This image has always sparked a memory of reflection for me. It was the first time I felt a subject was using me to make the photograph they wanted so that their message could get out. It was taken in Masaya, Nicaragua just before the popular insurrection against the Somoza dictatorship took hold. The Indigenous community used these traditional dance masks to protect their identity. They were practicing future attacks with homemade contact bombs. They simply wanted the world to know. The surprise for me was that it was used on the cover of The New York Times Magazine, my first ever in the media. I remain ambivalent about the performative in photography. I have never thought of myself as a portraitist, and still prefer to make connections through a process of immersion.” -- Susan Meiselas (Nicaragua, 1981)
“I had wanted to use flash for a long time, but it took me years to try it. I don’t like to do things differently than the way I know how to do them. That’s not because I don’t like change -- I just trust what I know. But I always loved film noir, and I always loved shadows. So in 1980, I shot like 600 rolls of film in the streets of New York and developed them all in one fell swoop in my bathroom. I looked at what I had and found that there was nothing good. Nothing. It was all shit because I couldn't separate the foreground from the background. I said to myself, ‘Bruce, you gotta start using flash.’ So I tried it, and immediately, making pictures started to feel like a fun game. I was trying things, playing and experimenting. This was the first picture I ever took with a flash that I felt really good about. It marks the beginning of something simple, but something that changed my life as a photographer.” -- Bruce Gilden (New York City, 1981)
“The sad, vibrant, tragic, beguiling country of Haiti has been key to my photography. After reading Graham Greene’s The Comedians -- a novel set in Haiti that both fascinated and scared me -- I made my first trip in 1975. But, photographing in black and white, I soon realized that something was missing: I wasn’t capturing a sense of the searing light and the heat -- physical and, perhaps, metaphysical -- of this country, so different than the grey-brown reticence of New England, where I grew up. I wasn’t dealing with the emotional intensity of my experience of this vivid and troubled land. So, when I returned to Haiti four years later, I decided to work in color. As I wandered through the porticos of downtown Port au Prince in 1979, I remember spotting this man with a bouquet of bulrushes -- strikingly outlined against a vibrant red wall -- as a second man, in shadow, rushed by. I took the photograph and slowly began to realize it was time to leave black and white behind.” -- Alex Webb (Port au Prince, 1979)

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