I started making art when I was two years old. Fast forward sixteen years to when I was studying at Rhode Island School of Design, I started out majoring in painting but then switched to illustration. I didn’t know where I fit in, those were not my most creative years. I was stuck in an academic rut, delivering on a technical level, but longing to express more. I felt artistically depleted. Despite a treasure trove of ideas, I was blocked by my own self imposed barriers while I watched my peers experiment and pioneer their visions.
So I began a series of self portraits shot in staged rooms that I created in very feminine shades of bubble gum pink, baby blue, mint green and butter cream. This work led to a residency in Rome and I spent the next year exploring the the city as I continued to work on my self portraits and a series of videos. After a while I began to feel stagnated by the pressure to intellectualize my work. So when I returned home to the US I started shooting 35mm film again. It was a way to set myself free from studio practice and to just pick up the camera and spontaneous shoot what I saw on the street.
I’d been dreaming of living in Los Angeles for a while, and a year after graduation I took a job working as a translator for a gaming company in Culver City. LA dazzled me in every possible sense; the sun, the whitened teeth, the bleach-blonde hair, the freshly scrubbed white shoes. Everything was reflective, sleek and clean. People looked crisp and candy-like, their surfaces touched by sea salt and sun, and the pastel colored houses that speckled Venice Beach brought tangible joy to my heart.
My solar plexus, as it were, came alive with the sounds, colors, and smells of the hippy-dippy, RV-laden streets of Santa Monica and Venice. It was undeniable. I fell in love with the colors and feeling of L.A. And I also felt the freedom to shoot in the moment and I fell in love with photography again.
Nevertheless, beauty was not enough. Unless I could act upon all this sensory input and produce artwork, I felt endlessly tantalized. It is worth noting that I worked at an office surrounded by men who despite their good intentions, did not realize how their every word and micro-expression made me feel powerless by some measure. I needed an immediate vehicle for expression—something quick and powerful. One day I was sick in bed watching “Burlesque,” when an idea came to me.
I had always loved well-crafted expressions of hedonsim through dance, photography or music. Gaspar Noe’s CLIMAX, Fellini’s 8 ½, and Cuarón’s Roma, as well as the impeccable performances of Dita Von Teese and the boundless joy I’ve experienced at night clubs and festivals—are vast sources of inspiration to me as an artist. I started searching for Bikini Clubs in LA and found one nearby called Fantasy. One week later I was a regular pole dancer called “Little Miss Funshine.”
All the repressed adrenaline that simmered during my daylight hours culminated in explosive performances at night. I had no regard for whether I was technically a good dancer. This was simply a mode of expression and a means for me to maintain my sanity.
Most importantly, I loved the visuals at Fantasy—glittery lips, transparent stilettos, crystal studded bodysuits, and neon nails. I loved meeting the bizarre men whose souls were twisted out of shape by toxic marriages. I loved the girls there; some bitter, others acting like older sisters or aunts to me, helping me score a few more dollars while getting hustled less.
One night I was sprawled across a side-stage with Snoop Dogg’s, “Smile” blasting overhead, as he sang out the famous line, “I’m living my best life.” Rich beams of green and magenta flashed over my tired legs and the audience was empty. The club was dead and I paid a heavier fee to get on stage that night than I earned. I was exhausted and had a 9 AM work-shift the next day, but I had on my favorite latex bodysuit and could at least score one free shot from the old colonel at the bar. Was this my best life, or my best story?
I toyed with the idea of taking my camera into the locker room, knowing I was playing with fire. One night I did it. I fell in love with the ritual of preparing for the stage, especially watching the women transform from their daytime selves—moms, older women and teenage girls alike—into their stage personae.
I have continued dancing since. I never fail to be amazed by the brilliant characters I meet there. To name a few: Tasha–the Russian queen in ivory corsets and diamonds, whose commitment to silence and discretion is equal to her calculation on stage. Phoenix, the train wreck I secretly wish to be. Her “femme” and “fatale” tattoos under each side of her rear, her wild orange hair, her smoky voice and her stealthy turns can only be summarized in one word: wicked.
These girls inspire me to explore my femininity and the hidden violence within womanhood; a theme I’m confronted with every day whether dancing or at the office. My staged rooms, which I cover in various colored fabrics and in which I photograph myself are an attempt to convey the constant restlessness, romance, longing and innocence I feel within. They are not ideal works, but they are a beginning of expression. I hope that my photographs will one day exude the same kind of energy that I bring to my work on stage.
Anna Eastman studied painting, illustration, and film at the Rhode Island School of Design. To see more of Anna’s work, follow her on IG @annat.e.