Photos of Hajar Benjida of exotic dancers from Atlanta offer an alternative view

Written by Jackie Palumbo, CNN

IN clickwe look at the power of a single photograph, describing stories of how both contemporary and historical images are created.

When Hajar Benjida started filming exotic dancers in the Atlanta region, she didn’t want to take typical pictures of them performing on stage. Instead, she shoots many of the women at home, including Cleo, who recently gave birth to a baby boy named Andy.

One of Benjida’s striking images is composed of a modern Madonna and Child, with the then new mother hugging her son in her lap, her eyes meeting the camera. Her fishnet top – a retro piece by Jean-Paul Gauthier with the Mona Lisa looking out – has been pushed high enough for Andy to breastfeed.

“Sometimes people forget (they have) families outside the club,” Benjida said in a video interview. “They just want to enchant the life or the performance they saw on stage.”

The portrait, part of Benjida’s series “Atlanta Made Us Famous”, celebrates the less credited players on the world-famous hip-hop scene, which is a launching pad for artists from TI and Ludacris to Young Thug and Playboi Carti. Through the series, the Dutch photographer, who was working in Atlanta at the time, turned her attention to those she considered to be the real kings of the music industry: exotic dancers in legendary clubs such as Magic City.

Cleo and Andy at home.

Cleo and Andy at home. credit: Hajar Benjida

“They play a really big role in the current hits we hear,” Benjida said. “(The songs) are tested in clubs. When these women dance to it … the audience goes with it.”

Dancers considered Atlanta’s “movie stars,” according to Lauren Greenfield’s 2015 documentary Magic City, have the power to create or break a song through their song requests and enthusiasm for new music. Unpublished, unmixed tracks come straight from the club’s studio and, if performed well, can be sent directly to radio stations and possibly music charts.

“Jays and dancers are more like A & Rs,” said Diamond, a dancer in the Greenfield documentary, referring to talent seekers in record companies. “We know what we love to dance to and we know a hit when we hear it.”

Single frame

Benjida poses portraits of women behind the scenes or at home with intimate and soft sensitivity. Instead of looking for the appeal of raw sex or performance, dancers often look calm but confident, looking directly at the viewer. One woman holds her twins in her lap, while another lies lying with her hand resting on her pregnant belly.

Cleo lives in Stone Mountain, a suburb outside the city, and at that time, in 2019, she traveled to work in various clubs during the week. Benjida spent the day with her at home, and although many images were posted, the moment she took the strongest shot was accidental.

“In the middle of the photos, she was breastfeeding her child, and I asked her for a shot,” Benjida said. “I didn’t even see the picture right away … so I really had to trust this shot.”

Cleo and Andy home a year later.

Cleo and Andy home a year later. credit: Hajar Benjida

But seeing the power in the details – the similar hairstyles on the enigmatic famous theme of Cleo and Leonardo and the Renaissance composition, she recognized the power of this single frame.

A year later, she returned to Stone Mountain to photograph the couple again, this time outside their home. Like many of the images in Atlanta Make Us Famous, the portrait exudes a sense of confidence, bringing to the fore the women who are the backbone of the Atlanta hip-hop scene. Cleo holds Andy on her thigh, her orange hair matching the McLaren sports car next to them. But here, if you look closely, there is another subtle reminder of her motherhood: two matching orange toy carts tucked into the platforms of her heels.

Related Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.