Last Night: Robert Alder’s “Burlesque”
Hyde Street Gallery (1987 Hyde St.)
May 29, 2008
Notes and Photos by Edward Paik
There’s a bare-chested woman to Robert Adler’s right with her legs split upon a stage, her head tilted away from the crowd. Her image is a relic - a piece of the photographer’s past, a history lesson from the last days of burlesque and the beginning of Adler’s days documenting what he calls the "sexual underground."
Adler’s months spent photographing the dying days of the Troc Burlesque Theater in Philadelphia in 1974 were featured at the Hyde Street Gallery in early April. The exhibit was supposed to wrap itself up on May 10, but its popularity extended it through yesterday evening. Adler dropped by the intimate gallery to talk about his work, which has hung from the walls of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Louvre in Paris, France.
“There was danger, there was sex, there was drugs, there were crimes, there was prostitution and it was all going on backstage,” says Adler. And it can all be seen through the elegance of black and white photography that captures the essence of burlesque life in the 70s.
Adler descended into the sexual underground at the age of 24 and never quite left - since then he has photographed the adult entertainment and S&M communities.
“I saw myself as a journalist,” he says. “I could let other people see with my pictures what I was seeing.”
David Bigeleisen remembers when he first saw Adler’s work nearly a decade ago. “It was very interesting,” said the lawyer and photographer. “Some of the things he was interested in overlapped with what I was interested in.”
Though Burlesque's revival is interesting to him, Adler says there's nothing quite like the original:
"I like it but I keep getting, when ever I see it I can’t help but see the contrast between the new burlesque and the way it was with the original burlesque. Most of it has to do with the fact that the original burlesque is much much sleazier, but the new burlesque is sort of cleaned up, kind of like it’s safe, whereas the original burlesque is very much not safe."