Doris Kloster's Demimonde: A Visual Exploration of Fetish
My idea for this book was to show how my interest in fetish began and how it has evolved over time. As I was selecting the images for Doris Kloster's Demimonde I sought out pictures that represented significant developments in my art.
While working as editorial director of FAD Magazine in the 1980s I was surrounded by the most flamboyant and visually interesting people and, naturally, I photographed them in the newest nightspots or on the streets with New York City as the backdrop. For me, fetish really began in the nightclubs with all the illustrious and notorious nightlife personalities, each creating their own personal artistic statement. Dressing up and going out was turned into a brilliant performance, and each character played a leading role. I was lucky enough to be a habitué of the club scene and allowed entry into its turbulent depths. My interest in fashion and journalism led me to document this colorful period in the history of downtown New York City, when the twin towers still stood proudly on the skyline.
I was living in Soho just off Broadway in a huge loft, at a time when the area was just beginning to show signs of cultural life. There was little of the gentrification that dominates Manhattan today. Luckily there were no multi-national fast food outlets, coffee shops or casual clothing stores and no mega-malls to spoil the visual landscape. It was 1986 and the art galleries were just starting to move to Soho from the East Village. Rents were still affordable, and there were few conveniences like grocery stores, dry cleaning services or pharmacies, but that made it more thrilling, like a frontier town. At night the neighborhood was as deserted as a graveyard. I was venturing out every midnight, hoping to find a taxi to one of the many nightclubs – Area, The World, Pyramid Club, Larry T's Love Machine, Panty Girdles, and the famous after-hours club Save the Robots, to name a few. There were outlaw parties – at public pools and subway platforms, and fashion shows in moving subway cars. This was the milieu of the infamous Michael Alig and, later, Disco 2000, his patented brand of sicko high jinx. As night turned to day we went out into the morning light with hopes of getting safely home in our freakery before being spotted by the neighbors on their way to work. Usually people would stop and gawk at the feather boas, latex catsuits and platform hip boots as we stumbled out of a cab at eight am. Some of the pictures in this book were shot just after such a night of reveling, or arranged in the clubs and shot on another day at sunrise or in the clubs during the early afternoon.
I liked to document the city's landscapes, both indoors and out, along with its inhabitants – real people, not stars. I signed up James St. James to write a column for FAD Magazine entitled "Night People" for which we did photo shoots and interviews with the divas and reigning queens of the night, some of whom are pictured here. I shot an ad for Sex and the City stylist Pat Field's store on 8th Street (page 24), and produced lots of editorial stories for FAD's pages. We would shoot on Sunday mornings down on Wall Street when it was deserted, take a taxi to one of the many bridges around Manhattan, or just step outside my loft for a shoot in Soho. All the people modeled their own costumes, and each picture was a real collaboration.
During the late 1980s and early 1990s the fetish world revolved around the club scene, with a mix of performance, drag and body modification acts (pages 41, 46, 42, 150 and 151). This underground world generated a fabulous feeling of decadent debauchery that spawned many inspired creations. The drag goddesses had the most original style. They were the true stars of the scene, along with a few real women who were pursuing an Uberfrau look of hyper-sexuality with big hair, big boobs and stratospheric heels (page 37). These female amazons exaggerated their feminine qualities to the point of cartoon characters, approaching the drag queens in outrageous looks and behavior – it was hard to tell the real girls from the others. Every night demanded a new act, a new costume and a new look. There were females doing drag and males doing drag. The pioneers were a mix of Marilyn Monroe, Greta Garbo and Mae West. These lovelies started many trends – drag is now as normal as apple pie. They began wearing rubber dresses, glittery body make-up, oversized long lashes, customized rubber-soled wedge platform boots, and sheer body stockings with corsets and leather thongs long before anyone else was wearing them. Their overtly individual sexual expression really helped to bring about changes in attitudes and a more open acceptance of different types of behavior.
The male gay scene also played an important role in the development of fetish S & M nightclub events. In 1990 I shot a series of pictures entitled "Men and Meat" (pages 32 and 35) at six o'clock in the morning in the meat market section of New York's Chelsea neighborhood. Now a fashionable shopping area, at that time it was strictly a marketplace for butchers and their products. I wanted to have big muscle men in hip boots and high heels wearing corsets and female fetish drag, yet trying not to disguise their masculinity – only enhancing it with the use of female accessories. This caused an uproar with the super-macho meat market workers, who finally called the cops when the two guys kissed and embraced in front of the meat hooks and delivery trucks. I find it particularly interesting that straight men would be so threatened by two butch men kissing, but could be easily taken in by a passable queen. Were they having a hard time accepting the power of the male and female morphing in to one?
Having worked as a fashion photographer in Europe before coming to New York, I found the visual imagery of the exotic fringe world to be very powerful. At one point at FAD we decided to interview world-famous domina Ava Taurel for an article. I went to her studio and we did some pictures. This is how I began shooting dominatrixes and their slaves. I was interested in documenting the power relationship that exists between a mistress and a submissive. I am convinced that many slaves relished thoughts of their secret world, with their individual slave number and code words, while sitting at their day job. As fate would have it, I eventually had to move out of my loft, which had been the scene of many parties and photo shoots, and my new apartment was within walking distance of four dungeons. It turned out I had moved to the epicenter of New York's dungeon world.
My visits over the years to dominas in Paris, London, Madrid and Barcelona are represented in some of the pictures that appear here (pages 104, 130, 132, 136, 138, 139, 150, 154). While this is by no means a complete survey of the current global scene, it includes many interesting personalities. One opportunity came while I was in Moscow to shoot a book project on the history of World War II. I was hired to photograph Russian army generals in their uniforms at the Red Army Museum, and my love of history and uniforms made this a dream project for me. I used my free time in Moscow trying to track down a domina to photograph, without success. Eventually, I approached one of the girls that hang out by the dozen in hotel lobbies and she agreed to pose for pictures (pages 78 and 79).
One of my favorite places in Europe is Venice, especially during the annual Carnivale. I love the Carnivale because it mixes many of my favorite things together – masks, costumes, symbols, role playing and sumptuous locations – that all transport one to another place and time. On my most recent visit I stayed in a beautiful palazzo on the Grand Canal. One early morning after a masked ball we found ourselves waiting for a water taxi and I took the picture on page 158. The possibilities for naughtiness are endless under the cover of a mask.