Doris Kloster

New work


Works on paper



Reflections on History



She Views Herself



Artist Statement


Pages from Doris Kloster Photography book


My earliest fine art photographs showed religious antiquities and images of women that I found in the baroque churches of Germany. To me, these churches represented a mysterious realm of spirituality and power, places of worship where solemn rituals are performed to this day amid sculpted marble and stucco symbols of heaven and earth. I found icy white terracotta angels and warm golden skeletons arranged in close proximity. Wildly lavish ornamentation, richly-veined marble columns and gilded rococo ceilings marked this domain where mortality and infinity meet. Fairy-like, winged angels with chains around their necks peering down from on high. Tender cherubs wielding spiked clubs.

The contrasting representations of heavenly creatures beside mortal remains seemed intended to provoke an intense psychological unease that would propel the faithful to a state of religious rapture. Crucifixes and candles appeared to me to be at the same time representations of inner spiritual experience and symbols of submission to a higher power.

As co-founder and executive editor of FAD magazine, a large-format chronicle of contemporary culture, I have been assigning, editing and crating editorial feature articles since 1986. In 1987, I decided to do a piece on the underworld of sado-masochism. I wanted to explore interpersonal exchanges of power using strong images created with careful attention to formal artistic elements. I photographed several well-known New York City dominatrixes. Part of the reason for my interest in this imagery was my concern with the strictly confined acceptable range of female roles. Throughout history, women have been labeled and portrayed as either virgins or whores. I saw the dominatrix as a kind of priestess conducting rituals that have the power to provide a cathartic experience through subjugation and the infliction of pain. In addition I wanted to explore my own role as an artist working with the one category of images by which women have felt most threatened. I wanted to confront taboos and access their potency for transformation and realization. As a result, this project accentuated my nascent artistic interest in SM.

I began creating photographs using the symbol system of dominance and submission to examine scenes of control and restraint, seduction and repulsion, pleasure and pain. Many of the photographs in this book capture New York City dominatrixes engaged in ritual enactment and role-play within their private chambers. In these dungeons I discovered psycho-sexual theaters that operate within a complex structure of props, costumes, traditional character roles and elaborate dialogue and plot lines. The models in this book are mostly either professional dominatrixes and their paying clients or people who are involved in the fetish and SM scene. They are not merely passive agents in this process; they know full well the significance of the props and poses we investigate together.

The photos in the section Babyland capture demonstrations of the concept known as abreaction – the expression and physical discharge of emotional material. Re-enacting childhood scenes accesses deeply-rooted emotions and feelings of vulnerability and innocence. The scene portrayed, a 'mean mommy' scenario, can potentially jog hidden memories and explain unfulfilled longings. The 'babies' (who are in reality adult men and women) in the pictures are deliberately bad in order to get the attention of the 'mother'. The only time she interacts with them is when she is inflicting spankings and other punishments. The hyper-real colors of these images echo the intensified nature of childhood sensory experiences. Human senses are at their peak during the years of most intensive growth and learning. Hearing is never again as sharp and acute as when one is learning to speak. Memories, dreams and visions are never again so vivid or so potent.

I do feel that the practice of SM can be a path to ego-transcendence. In many of the world's religions, rituals of submission and pain are gateways to redemption. In Christianity, customs of penance, confession and forgiveness, while inherently masochistic, found their most extreme expression among priests in some monasteries where enforced silence, fasting and self-flagellation were and are practiced. Moslem fundamentalists publicly scourge themselves and Indian Sadhus engage in multiple skin-piercing during religious festivals. The experience of the flailed slave is often reported to be similar to the 'runner's high' in which, at a certain point during physical exertion, endorphins are produced, giving the brain a natural opiate rush. The other potential for transcendence through SM comes with the experience of giving up control over one's own body to another. This temporary release from all human responsibilities, even from control of one's bodily functions, can be an inducement for the ego to fall away. When the experience of relinquishment of power is boosted by the ego-freeing effects of sex, it can be a passage to self-realization.

In a similar way I think people feel a lack of control over their own fate in a fast-changing society, and this has led to the growth of interest in piercing, tattooing, branding, ritual scarification and other body modification behavior. These forms of auto-eroticism involve exercising dominion over one's body, the one thing people may feel they can still control. Historically, tattoos have been popular among inmates and sailors, people in a position of quasi-servitude. A tattoo or a patterned scar can be a comfortingly permanent feature in an otherwise ever-changing environment, and it is an enduring assertion of one's individuality.

SM is becoming more and more visible and prominent in society as the risk of AIDS limits people's interest in conventional sexual contacts. It has meant that people have become more imaginative in their sex play, experimenting with activities that focus on the power dynamics of sexual relationships. People are discovering that the brain is the body's principal sex organ. SM play integrates the brain and the body in fantasy; to engage in it takes more extensive personal involvement than just the senses and glands. Many find fulfillment through the voyeuristic and exhibitionistic aspects of fetish clothing. At a time when the exchange of body fluids is perilous, donning insulating apparel such as rubber clothing and gas masks for sex may not be that excessive.

Doris Kloster
Venice, July 1995

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Doris Kloster 2024