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Jonny Kaye, Grot (2023)
Photography Jonny Kaye

In pictures: a visceral group portrait of the UK’s kink scene

In his debut book GROT, Jonny Kaye captures the gimps, pro-dommes and fetishists who make up his treasured community

In the mainstream imagination, kink is often linked to the shock factor, the extreme forms of eroticism, chains, latex and leather. While all these do show up to a certain extent in Jonny Kaye’s work, his aim has always been documenting people’s true essence.

A self-taught photographer who got into the craft following a modelling career in his 20s, he took his first kink portraits in 2019 – of his close friend Jimmy. “It changed everything for me. I just knew then that is exactly what I want to photograph. In these images of Jimmy, that was truly him,” Kaye remembers. This feeling of sincerity and deep connection is still present throughout his work. “When I arrange to photograph someone, I just want to create a place where they can express who they are and what they’re about, and I just give them a safe space to do that. We create this artwork together.”

Kaye first started exploring kink, BDSM and fetish around the same time he started taking portraits. His upcoming book GROT is a reflection of this personal journey, but also the group portrait of the surrounding community which revolves around collaboration, mutual support and radical sexual expression. The word grot usually means “something unpleasant, dirty, or of poor quality” but, for Kaye, it signifies “the liberation behind embracing your inner filth”.  

GROT was curated by Linda Zhengová, a photographer and editor of Discarded Magazine. She first collaborated with Kaye on one of the publication’s covers, and the pair kept in touch ever since. For GROT, Kaye handed her an archive of around 12,000 images to choose from – and the curatorial freedom to play with narratives and themes within the work.

GROT, understood as counter-archive, engages alternative modes of knowledge and strives to initiate discussion about the public knowledge of sexuality and relationships,” Zhengová writes in her text for the book. “It aims to include sexualities and identities that were for a long time marked as ‘perverse’. Jonny’s photographs, therefore, exist outside of dominant temporality as they demonstrate emotions and topics that still remain taboo in society. This particular ‘otherness’ can be understood as a violation of normativity manifested in unconventional clothing and sexual practices. However, thanks to this publication, identities that were for a long time unimaginable or invisible can now be acknowledged.”

GROT is a collection of powerful erotic portraiture – at times dark and gritty, at times playful and joyful. Atmospheric, textured and shot entirely on film, it’s also an ode to self-expression, mutual respect and consent which are the underlying principles among the new generation of the UK’s fetish community. It platforms numerous LGBTQ+ people and sex workers at the heart of the scene and allows the fetishists and kinksters in front of the camera to claim and rewrite their stories – stories which are not always welcome on mainstream platforms. 

“Online censorship today is getting worse and worse. It’s getting to the point when it’s becoming dangerous, people losing livelihoods and connections to each other,” Kaye adds. “Censorship was one of the reasons why I chose to make a book – to have complete creative freedom.”

You can pre-order your copy of GROT by supporting the crowdfunding campaign here.  

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