Red rubber corsets, complex knots and sex acts on the metro: from Robert Mapplethorpe to Helmut Newton the subversive visionaries who shot fetish best
Feet, bondage, public places, international love hotels. Across the globe, the subcultures of sex have been slowly drawn out as photographers face our darkest, utmost sexual desires head on. Fetishes that live in the dingy studios of 70s New York, to the dark public parks of Tokyo and neon-lit highway motel rooms of rural America. Although fetish isn't neccessarily a sexual need, rather, an intensely animated desire. London's Richard Saltoun gallery is presenting a solo exhibition of the French Surrealist artist Pierre Molinier, a fetish provocateur who experimented with S&M paraphernalia and altered the bodies of his models. In honour of the artist, we chart ten other photographers who lay bare our personal penchants that light the fire of human satisfaction, bringing fetishism out of the darkness.
Mapplethorpe was a regular on the New York night scene of the 70s, chilling comfortably among the Factory crowd and partying Max’s Kansas City crew, flanked by punk’s first lady Patti Smith and a string of creative lovers. He’s known for his classic portraits of everyone from Smith (he’s credited with her iconic Horses cover) to Andy Warhol and Debbie Harry, as well as his classic, black and white nudes. What he’s most famous – or rather, notorious – for, is his explicit, nude and bondage photography. Mapplethorpe perfectly captured the free, titillating spirit of the homoerotic underground bondage and sadomasochistic scene of the 60s and 70s in New York. It was his 1989 retrospective exhibit The Perfect Moment that caused national debate over public funding for the arts, for its use of ‘indecent’ nudity and explicit sexual acts Mapplethorpe would both observe and act on.
It was former WWII marine Elmer Batters, the photographer that went on to inspire legends like Helmut Newton and Allen Jones, who tapped into a barely touched sexual market – the foot fetish. He was dubbed the Dean of Leg for his images of women’s legs and feet, taking a special interest in ‘larger women’ like Rubenesque model Caruschka. Batters is credited with guiding the sexual penchant out of the underground and into the mainstream consciousness, sustaining an arrest for publishing the fetish magazine Man’s Favourite Pastime and Black Silk Stockings.
The New York-born photographer was recently in the Autumn 2015 issue of Dazed, unearthing his shots of the roadside sex joints of America in the 70s. Kroll takes inspiration from bondage photographer provocateurs such as Man Ray, as well as surrealist art. The women Kroll has photographed – including former girlfriend and muse Felice – are placed in unconventional positions, adorned with cactus needles, cellophane or seeds, wearing leather and red rubber. He also photographed his ex-wife Lynka in a leather thong for one of his most explicit fetish shoots.
Originally from Poland, Jaszczuk travelled to the tight-lipped, strait-laced city of Japan to uncover its hidden kinks in its underground sex clubs. He spent three years in Tokyo’s love hotels, sex parties and BDSM bars, photographing the indulgent fetishes of manga, latex and bodily functions. Eventually, this culminated in the photo book Kinky City, providing a personal peepshow of Japan’s Shinjuku Ni-Chome district. Speaking of his time in Japan, he told us the experience helped him open up to the more underground of human desire. “We can’t judge others too hastily, we need to respect each other much more,” he explains. However, there was one fetish he passed on capturing on camera: “There’s a bar where you can order a ‘poo’ from the bartender, on a plate. I was invited there but I refused.”
ELLEN VON UNWERTH
Having been on both sides of the lens, model-turned-photographer Ellen Von Unwerth understands how best to harness female sexuality on camera, while retaining womanly empowerment. A 2012 exhibit titled Do Not Disturb delved into a kitschy fantasy of what goes on behind closed hotel room doors. Her erotic images explore the playfulness of fetishism, and it’s her unapologetically provocative 2005 Playboy shoot involving Drew Barrymore, cutesy backgrounds and kittens that cements her autonomous position on female sexual agency.
Helmut Newton was one of few photographers who successfully married both fashion and eroticism. With many a Vogue cover under his belt, he experimented with fetishistic motifs and sensual nudity, together with high fashion and even higher heels. Newton was fond of hotel rooms for his shoots, as places that invite both privacy and voyeurism. Heels often make appearances as phallic objects or sources of sexual power for women emancipating themselves from the grip of the male gaze.
Across four decades, Nobuyoshi Araki teased out female eroticism from Tokyo with his celebrated but controversial works documenting bondage. His book Bondage is the pinnacle of passionate, emotional sexual release. Sometimes barely clothed, other times completely nude, his female subjects have been doused in paint, sheathed in traditional Japanese robes and hung from rope as part of the Kinbaku-bi practice. Kinbaku-bi translates to ‘the beauty of tight binding’, a concept Araki uses in his controversial Kinbaku series. His work traces the lines between the public and private sphere; influenced by the Japanese Shunga art form of wooden blocks printed with erotic tableaux scenes in the home with humorous inscriptions. Araki’s explicit images challenge the constrained sexuality of his country of origin and invite it forward.
Another Japanese photographer on the list, Yoshiyuki discovered a hidden side of Tokyo in the city parks shrubbery, where copulating couples would get at it for the viewing of super turned on strangers. Using a 35mm camera, infrared film and flash, he discovered several orgies in the city parks and began regularly visiting the parks to capture the spectators and the dogging couples. With the voyeurs unaware of Yoshiyuki and his curious lens, we the viewers are also drawn into the intriguing spectating fetish.
The Canadian native focuses on the female form, photographing the women of Tokyo’s S&M love hotels and striptease clubs to explore the intriguing love den fetish. Daoust treads into the fantasy that seduction and fetishism can provide, capturing the movement of the body during the art of solicitation. Female sexuality and empowerment is rampant, intimate and unapologetic, open to subverting gender stereotypes with the powerful sex worker who doesn’t need saving. The women of Tokyo Hotel Story stare down the barrel of the lens as they move in their latex catsuits, present their genitalia and sensually wrap themselves in hanging rope, inviting the viewer to comply to their will.
In Pervert Rush, Kagari uses his infrared camera to sneak peeks at some seriously heavy petting and groping on Tokyo’s Metro system. Clicking his camera, every hand on open knees or fingers inside zippers is caught in the flurry of the morning commute. This voyeuristic act asks us to consider the murky world of sex and privacy in the public sphere, and most importantly: how sexy is your commute?
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Visit the Richard Saltoun gallery for the Pierre Moliner from 20 August – 2 October 2015