Stefanie Moshammer, Vegas and She

JTF (just the facts): Published by Fotohof in 2015 (here). Hardcover, 112 pages with 88 color photographs. In an edition of 700 copies. Includes quotes from various authors and text by the artist. (Cover and spread shots below.)

Comments/Context: Las Vegas, the flickering impossible city in the middle of the desert, is well known for its excesses of sin, sex, and luxury, and its successful entertainment businesses draw a wide range of people hunting both for easy pleasure and steady work. Austrian photographer Stefanie Moshammer’s new photobook Vegas and She follows various striptease dancers who moved to Sin City attracted by the promise of quick money but are unable to escape. Fascinated and intrigued by their lifestyle, Moshammer spent two months with the women, getting inside their subculture and closer to their personalities.

For this series, Moshammer photographed seven dancers, ranging in age from 21 to about 50. Her intimate portraits were shot against the backdrop of the city and often in funky, down and out hotel rooms. While her photographs give little insight into personal life stories of the women she depicts, the pictures capture the nuances of their immediate environments and the illusionary worlds they have worked hard to create, walking a blurred line somewhere between reality and fantasy.

A fuzzy black and white aerial map of Las Vegas, with two dozen places marked with jaunty pink hearts, serves as an introduction to the book, and Moshammer’s photographs guide us through this stark tour, exploring the world that exists beyond the flashy casinos, the luxury nightclubs, and the fast cars. The mix of portraits of local residents, banal scenes, in-between landscapes, and curious details depicts Las Vegas as a mysterious city of extremes and contrasts. A picture of a night road covered with stains (is it blood? or maybe machine oil), a glimpse of a naked woman in high heels on her knees next to a wooden table, and a shot of a red ceiling (an obvious reference to Eggleston), set the mood for the fragmented, dark, and often bizarre visual narrative.

One of the first images in the book shows money thrown on the tiled floor and hands piling it up – but these are just one dollar bills, an appropriate metaphor for this slice of Las Vegas. The portraits that follow are both controlled poses and impromptu modeling shots, ranging in mood from confident (in an explicit slinky coverall in a tiger pattern) to eager (in a Mickey Mouse t-shirt and tiny shorts). One of the most surreal images in the book depicts a young girl sitting on a bed in a motel room with the walls painted like lush leafy green jungles; her red bikini matches an apple on the tree in the background, adding something mythical to an otherwise ordinary moment. There are also photos of women whose faces we don’t see – they are hidden by shadows, cropped out, or shot from behind, like the perfect white bed with a woman in a black underwear seen from the back. Moshammer spent time with all of these women, listening to their stories, and building some level of trust. Her efforts to connect with the subjects are reflected in the portraits, where the sitters appear confident, relaxed, and at ease with the camera. But as these stories unfold, we can’t help but wonder where the line between documentation and fiction really is.

Playing the game of the city, the strippers are part of the machine that keeps Las Vegas alive and moving. And part of what Moshammer hones in is this creation of artificial identities that fulfill men’s desires and fantasies. Images of bright pink Cadillacs, exotic plants, tattoos, and golden interior decorations represent fragments of this façade, while shots of the dusty landscape and the burning desert hint at the need for a possible escape. Vegas and She becomes a poetic metaphor for the whole Las Vegas experience, where the harsh reality of nature stands in contrast to the city driven by desire and imagination.

In general, the flow of Moshammer’s images works well in book form, as the layout and presentation allow photographs of various sizes to interact. Pink and red are the dominant colors in the series and a few images have pink borders around them, reinforcing this palette. Quotes by Lewis Carroll, Vladimir Nabokov, and the artist (also with pink backgrounds) have been placed between the pages, adding additional reference points to the larger story and helping to blend the personal and the fictional into one. A hotel bill and an inmate bail bond receipt are used for the endpapers, gently hinting at the extremes of potential Las Vegas experiences.

Moshammer’s poetic writing seems to sum it all up: “Oh Vegas, Vegas and She. A report of circumstances, evidence, an indication of love and sorrow”. Her Las Vegas is full of ambiguous contradictions, both ordinary and extraordinary, a place where female reality is entirely (and often depressingly) negotiable.

Collector’s POV: Stefanie Moshammer does not appear to have gallery representation at this time. Collectors interested in following up should likely connect directly with the artist via her website (linked above).

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