“The book they refused to print”
It was originally intended that this book would be released at Southern Exposure. At the last minute the printer decided they were not comfortable with the content, and have refused to print “Fetish”. A search for an alternative printer has failed, with many other printers also refusing the work. These issues will be resolved, just not in time for the original release date.
Lindsay McLeod’s Fetish is a book of unusual art and record. His black and white photographs are highly charged images of people dressed for and engaged in acts of bondage and discipline and sado-masochism. The subjects aren’t actors but people for whom BDSM is a part of their lives. The book also includes statements from the subjects saying what they do, why they do it and how they feel about it and other people’s reactions to their ‘kink’. Few New Zealand artists approach this subject and probably none so directly as McLeod. The people portrayed are resident in southern New Zealand and interactive through their fetish so the book is a social document as well as a personal one. It is a very unusual portrait gallery.
Some will react with moral indignation, some with a snigger and many with sheer bafflement. Moral indignation comes in both conservative and liberal colours. Conservatives cite traditional taboos against the exhibition of sexuality and the proscription of certain forms of it. The liberals raise questions concerning the exploitation of certain groups and the reinforcement of unfortunate stereotypes. The defense, voiced in several of the subject statements, is that everything portrayed is between informed, consenting adults. Many also point to tender relationships between the participants for whom the things we see are expressions of love. For many this is where bafflement begins and perhaps will end; it takes unusual self-awareness to detect the commonality of the underlying impulses. Nevertheless Fetish makes the case and lets us see.
McLeod’s treatment is always sympathetic. It is also carefully composed, formal studio work. Images such as Liz overtly combine cruelty and elegance. Others are less easily read. Thomas, which might only show a man dressed for a part in a Shakespearean history play, turns out to be something else. Still others are starkly painful, such as Mark, and Nicola. There are graphic images of modified genitalia and enactments of the more or less familiar bizarre. If a woman in a corset with a whip is now a paradigm whose oddity has faded, a man playing the part of a show pony still tweaks our sense of the absurd. McLeod treats them all with dignity. His lens composes images of almost solemn decorum, inviting us to witness, with respect.
A necessary part of the portrait-maker’s craft is to find a way of revealing the subject’s character, or an aspect of it. Candid portraiture often does this by stealing. Another strategy is to win the subject’s confidence, so that people reveal themselves. This has been McLeod’s approach. Into this most personal and still widely unacceptable chamber of human psychology he has won admission. It has taken years to achieve and what he has won from it he brings to us with exquisite care. To do anything less would have defeated the purpose but to do so much is rare.
Fetish is a term that raises more questions than it answers. Sex is such a basic necessity that it is seldom treated as a friend, more often something to be talked about in low tones or even ignored. Curiosity, horror and ridicule, are poles apart when stepping from the norm that society expects.
In this exhibition I have tried to avoid the sensational and tried to show, in as dignified a manner as possible, this highly charged subject. The images raise the question, the text or personal story tells you why. Viewed together this exhibition is a visual statement of a way of life for many sexually adventurous people. While some may never understand, I would like to think that this exhibition would arouse both the interest and curiosity of many. The camera is a very powerful medium, which can allow the viewer to share something of the innermost fantasies of the individual mind.
A chance conversation with a Graduate that I was photographing, somehow bought up the subject of the “Goth” community. This aroused my interest as I was at that time looking for a personal challenge that could really extend me into an unknown field, an area that was more than just every day photography.
Arrangements were made for me to meet her “Goth” friends, who I found were extremely interesting both in their style of dress and general outlook on life. It was just a small step along the way for the subject of BDSM to come up in conversation. I soon became aware that these were all people who thought outside the square, and were both interesting and intelligent. This was a layer of society that I did not know existed and that I wanted to know more about. Contact was made with the local BDSM group, who turned out to be just like any other group of people, very friendly, and extremely non-judgmental. Understanding the etiquette of a “Play” scene was as important as was recognising what was a “safe” method of play. The absolute trust between all participants was at once very obvious to me.
This was a perfect medium for traditional Black & White photography, presenting some images against a plain white background and other more dramatic images on a dark background, while directing maximum attention on the particular activity.
My directions to all participants were that the clothing and props etc were their responsibility. The scene was their personal creation and my only input was to photographically make the composition as interesting as possible. I then invited them to write their story on what BDSM meant to them and if possible to document their own reasons for it being so important to their lifestyle.
That all this happened in such an honest but very personal way was to me an extremely humbling experience. I am indeed grateful to these subjects for laying bare their own personal “fetish” and allowing both the wider public and me the privilege of looking into their personal world.
We all have our fantasies but only some will have the courage to enjoy them and in doing so reap the pleasure that may enhance their lives.
This book is available for sale at Southern Exposure 2010 at the Fetish Market, at a discounted price of $40 - normally $80!