User Stories #2 - Burlesque

"A Burlesque performer is responsible for their own idea and concept, the music, choreography, costume, makeup - it's almost like doing a musical by yourself."

Verena Gremmer is a photographer, who not only portrayed 49 Burlesque performers for her book 'Burlesque Republic', but also became a Neo Burlesque performer herself. 

Her book 'Burlesque Republic' comes out in march and will be available on her website. In the meantime, she gives us a little personal insight into her work.

Tell us a little bit about you and your photography
People often tell me that they can't fit my work (or me) into any category. I know that this might be a problem for many people but for me it means that I'm still curious about what's going on around me and that I'm still trying new things and learning something from everything I do. What I love most about photography is that it gives me the chance to experience things and meet extraordinary people, which I wouldn't experience and meet if I had an office job. 

My work can be divided roughly into two groups: stylized portraits and documentary. I love to work with artists to create a photographic parallel universe of them, but I also enjoy documenting real life. Apart from photography I'm also working on my video skills.

When did you come in touch with 'Burlesque' the first time?
Being fed up with looking for a Lindy Hop dance partner, I went to a Burlesque-class that was offered in the same dance studio five years ago. Little did i know, what glittery adventures were lying ahead of me. Burlesque took over my life and soon I did a photo exhibition about the Burlesque performers in Munich, that evolved into a book about the finest performers in all of Germany and I even became a Neo Burlesque performer myself.

You have a book project about Burlesque artists called 'Burlesque Republic' coming out very soon. How long have you been working on it, and what made you do a book about it in the first place?
What I love most about (Neo) Burlesque is the complete freedom to do onstage whatever the fuck you want and that it is open to people of all genders, ages and bodytypes. It is an art form, but it is also a way of life. One comment I got from an audience member after a show really moved me and sums up the essence of Burlesque: "Thank you for putting on this show, now I know that everyone can be who they really are." ("Danke für eure Show, jetzt weiß ich, daß jeder sein kann, wie er ist.")

A performance lasts about 3 - 6 minutes and usually requires months or even years of preparation. A Burlesque performer is responsible for their own idea and concept, the music, choreography, costume, makeup - it's almost like doing a musical by yourself. Performers usually strip down to pasties and thong (although it's not a must) and use the removal of every item of clothing to interact with the audience (cheering the performer on is mandatory in a Burlesque show) and tell their story. So yes, it's basically stripping, but it's also so much more.

Burlesque performers in their unique costumes are an obvious choice for a photographer, but as I slowly became a part of the scene I noticed the amount of work that a great performance requires and I met so many passionate and inspiring people that I thought: "I want to learn more about Burlesque, I need to meet more of those fascinating people, I need to document this wonderful scene and show it to the world!"

So I decided to make a book that introduces people to Germany's best Burlesque performers. I've portrayed 49 performers: for each one there's 1 portrait of them in their stage costume, 1 photo of a performance and 1 image of their "private look", accompanied by a short personal text. Then there's of course a foreword about the history and meaning of Burlesque, several pages with backstage photos, an article about Burlesque costumes and a list of some of the best Burlesque events in Germany.

It took 4 years to complete the book. The first 2 years I photographed the performers from my area and wasted time trying to find a publisher. Then I decided to produce the book all by myself and use a crowdfunding campaign to raise money to cover the printing costs. There is no such thing as the "Yellow Pages" of Burlesque performers, so I had to do a lot of research, mostly on facebook, to find out where I needed to go and who I needed to photograph. This book has been the biggest project I've been working on so far, it's been nerve-wracking and cost me my last Euro, but it was also one hell of a ride and I've learned so much. "Burlesque Republic" was a major part of my life in the last years but I'm ready to say goodbye to it and embark on a new journey: I'm now running my own Burlesque show "GLITTERAMA" with a friend.

"Burlesque Republic" will be available on her website and amazon.