intimate photographs of the dancers at atlanta's magic city strip club
Hajar Benjida documents life behind the scenes at the legendary venue.
Left: Barbi Billionz, Atlanta, GA 2019. Right: Cleo en haar zoon Andy thuis, Stone Mountain, GA 2019.
This article originally appeared on i-D Netherlands.
Magic City in Atlanta is perhaps the most infamous strip club of all time, often name-dropped by rappers like Drake and Future. Netherlands-based photographer Hajar Benjida had already heard about the club when she arrived in America for her internship with Cam Kirk in 2018, but she was surprised to find his Atlanta studio was right in front of it.
As anyone in hip hop knows, Magic City is more than just a strip club. It plays a key role in the local scene; it is a meeting place where nascent producers, rappers, promoters, and talent scouts come together, and where artists like Cardi B and Offset still come to party. As an aspiring artist you want your music to be played there. But if the dancers don't feel the number and the audience keeps their notes in their wallets, it’s cut and never played again. If the money rains down, chances are that the number will be picked up. And also for the dancers, Magic City is often a stepping stone for a career in the entertainment industry.
It was primarily the influential role of the dancers that so intrigued Benjida, who became known for her portraits and backstage polaroids of the biggest hip hop stars. It wasn't long before she went to lunch at Magic City during her internship across the street and became friends with "housemother" Ms. Elaine. She had been around for 30 years and introduced Benjida to the women who worked there. Benjida decided to return after her internship period, this time with a camera, and spent a few weeks, shooting days and nights with the dancers, portraying them in their personal environment: in the club, the changing rooms, and at home. Magic City became the starting point of her ongoing Atlanta Made Us Famous project, in which Benjida captures dancers from various strip clubs in Atlanta.
“I really see these women as an important part of the Atlanta hip hop scene. By photographing them I wanted to show the other face of Atlanta. Not through the eyes of a man, as is often the case in the hip hop scene, but rather that of a woman,” Benjida says on the phone. “In addition, sex workers in mainstream feminism are still too often put in a damn corner. The dancers are aware of the prejudices about them in society, which sometimes creates a distance between them and the outside world. With my photos I wanted to break that open a bit and offer another narrative. ”
Benjida plans to return next year to further expand the series — she still speaks a lot of the dancers regularly via social media, iMessage, and e-mail. “By recording the dancers' lives and getting to know them better, I hope to be able to learn and share more and more with them. About their vision of stripping, their sexuality, the control of their images, but also, for example, the relationship between their work and motherhood, ” says Benjida. "But above all, I wanted to put the women at the center — they are the stars of the city."
Photography Hajar Benjida