Canadian photojournalist F. Roy Kemp spent the 1950s documenting the New York burlesque scene, producing thousands of images that give us a glimpse into the public and private lives of performers unparalleled in other photographers’ work. Through October 2019, the Burlesque Hall of Fame will feature selections of this work, with images of burlesque superstars like Tempest Storm, Blaze Starr, Zorita, and Jennie Lee, as well as lesser-known performers like Zizi Richards and Naja Karamuru.
Kemp shot pin-ups, but he was decidedly not a pin-up photographer. His best shots catch his subjects on stage, backstage, and in their homes. Kemp’s photos present an almost ethnographic view of the live of a working performer. He shows us performers in and of their moment, women for whom being beautiful is a job, and burlesque is their story.
Roy Kemp developed his eye as a photojournalist at the Toronto Star before moving to New York with his wife, illustrator Mary Hyrchenuk, to work as a freelancer. During World War II, Kemp served with the Royal Canadian Navy as a war photographer. In New York, Kemp focused on human-interest stories, and his work appeared in Life, Popular Photography, Design, and elsewhere. He died of pancreatic cancer in 1978. In 2017, a collection of around 2000 original photos, negatives, notes, and other material was donated to the museum by his family.
Admission to Body of Work: Midcentury Burlesque Through the Lens of F. Roy Kemp is included with museum admission.