New York Raw: The fetish underground, 1999-2005  [Photos]

 

These aren't garden-variety photographs.  Nor are they glimpses of the chic and well-placed.  This is something else.  Sado-masochism (known also as fetishism or bondage & discipline) has always inhabited the shadows, whatever the culture.  Its practicalities are not a subject of polite conversation.  And as a proclivity it doesn't go away.  It's not a trend but an urge.  How we respond to images like these tells us something about ourselves, our fantasies, our fears.

 

The years 1999-2005 arguably marked a high point of the fetish scene in America and Europe, with numerous venues opening on a weekly or monthly basis to cater to its needs.  New York was the scene's epicenter in the U.S.  As the London-based Skin Two magazine's New York photographer, I was allowed to photograph in some of the clubs; that led to invitations to shoot at private parties.  Within the venues I also pursued my own art, depicting the happenings in their fullness in a largely non-documentary approach.  My aim was to show the range of interests the scene attracted while doing character studies of some of its participants.  Inevitably, "New York Raw" suggests questions about the nature of human relationships and the various routes we all travel in search of pleasure.

 

In many ways, the annual Black and Blue Ball was a barometer of the relative rise and decline of the New York fetish scene.  It had kicked off in 1994 and for most of a decade was an increasingly anticipated event that drew an outpouring of attendees.  But as the public face of the scene waned, so too did the size of the event's venues until the ball itself was shifted from a mid-weekend Saturday night to a less-feasible Sunday (and then closing its doors forever in 2006).

 

I packed away my fetish negatives as I shifted to other projects.

 

Then, in 2012, I was reminded of their possibilities while attending a gallery show in Brussels.  On return trips to New York, I slowly poured through the old negatives anew and had several dozen scanned.

 

I'd been increasingly working in black and white, which had a timeless quality I thought fitting for the fetish life I'd photographed, so I converted the color images I'd shot for Skin Two to black and white, eventually sequencing them into a series of sixty-two photographs: "New York Raw," a foray into the complex human animal we are.