Wednesday, 26 May 2010 I've been taking photographs in London fetish clubs since 1983.
To begin with it was just a handful of people in one small Soho club called Skin Two (the magazine of the same name didn't exist then). Skin Two resided in what was, during the rest of the week, a gay club called Stallions. It was stuck away at the corner of a cobbled alleyway and you’d never find it if you didn’t know it was there.
The Skin Two night was the brainchild of a young actor called David Claridge, who later went on to achieve infamy as the hand up the furry arse of breakfast TV’s star puppet 'Roland Rat'.
The original Skin Two club was very, very dark and the atmosphere was testy and to the outsider, somewhat foreboding. I was physically threatened several times in the early days. Non fetishists, like myself, were certainly not made to feel welcome and possibly not without good reason. Many people who wanted to go to the Club would have had day jobs that could have been ruined if photographs of them in a "seedy Soho nightclub" got published in the wrong places. Indeed, when the British gutter press found out about the secret night life of Roland Rat, David had to end his association with Skin Two and the once a week club closed.
But, the seeds were firmly sown and, pretty soon, the club reopened in the same place on the same Monday night but under a different name - Maîtresse. Which became fairly popular. And it was quickly followed by Der Putsch and a couple of others.
Reknown fashion photographers like Helmut Newton and Bob Carlos Clarke had long included images of fetishwear in their canon and, by the mid '80s, PVC and rubberwear had become all the rage. For a while it was a staple of all the hippest pop videos and the trendiest fashion glossies. By the mid '90s, two London fetish clubs that had come along in the wake of the early pioneers, Submission and Torture Garden, could easily fill large 3000 plus capacity venues. And they came from all over the world to those clubs too. Then no doubt went back home and started their own fetish clubs.
Nowadays the fetish look is no longer the height of fashion, Submission has gone and Torture Garden has become fairly mainstream (you still have to wear all the gear to get in, mind).
For 16 years, until December of last year, I had a page in Loaded magazine called 'Getting Away With It' and that was virtually entirely shot in fetish clubs. My subjects were almost always young women expressing themselves in a deliberately provocative way but I intentionally kept any sort of photographic direction to an absolute minimum - people find this last part hard to believe but it's true. I was also very interested in the home-made clothes people often wore to fetish clubs and the way they would often creatively and humorously accessorise their clothes.
I like to think that during the GAWI years I developed a style of combining documentary portraiture and erotica in a way that hadn't, as far as I know, really been done much before. This latter point I've never been all that sure about, so if you have a counter view feel free to email me and put me right. I don’t bite.