This past month, I was assigned to fulfil a brief; the brief was specifically to document a subculture.
But in the society we find ourselves in today, what constitutes a subculture?
Is it because of how we dress, like the good old days of the new romantics, or the teddy boys or the mods?
Or is it now how we act as people which defines us as a ‘subculture’?
Does a subculture even exist anymore? besides the new age plague of health goths, Kardashian clowns, Vegans or wheat snobs (myself being the latter). I believe they do when you filter out the more ‘ahem’ contemporary subcultures, you just have to look harder.
Looking harder brought me to a point in my photographic career which broadened my aesthetics, my visual language, but most importantly; my perception of our society.
Last year I was commissioned to photograph an outstanding individual, a subject who has since became a good friend to me and my work; so aesthetically interesting with skin like a tattooed tapestry, the kind of human features that interests the likes of a portraitist photographer, but not in a Mickey Rourke kind of way.
But my work on the subcultures brief began with the help of my good friend David. During the last photo shoot, David had mentioned about his personal interests, beliefs and passions; at the top of his list was the subject of BDSM.
For those who aren’t in the know, BDSM can be many different things: Bondage & Discipline, Domination & Submission, Sadism & Masochism.
It means a lot of different things to a lot of different people, when David had first mentioned it, it meant nothing of the sorts to me. Until I began to push myself out of my comfort zone. It’s not until creatives begin to do this, that things really start to come to life.
I researched more about BDSM as a subculture, looking into the work of Photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, and his interest in the BDSM scene.
David began to tell me of the empowering qualities that BDSM had brought to his life, how dressing as domineering figures gave him that empowerment and excitement. Experimentation in his early 20’s had now brought David into the wholly into the world of BDSM and as he put it “I’de became part of both a community, and a family”.
There are thousands upon thousands of people who share this passion with David and his friends, and that’s just in the UK.
It’s just that people like you and I are unknown to this world of leather and rubber. Exposed to it only via mediocre media portrayals and cheap documentaries, not to mention poorly directed movies about it.
Yes, that means fifty shade too; sorry Sam Taylor-Johnson. But it’s films like these which provoke a negative public perception of BDSM in it’s entirety; I wanted to create a series of photographs which could help change this and bring exposure to the true nature of BDSM.
Before I could say oh my, I found myself in my studio space surrounded entirely by custom made leather suits (some of which reaching £700), rubber leggings, and a giant St. Andrews cross.
Each subject openly stated their interest in BDSM before the shoot, and their interest in doing what they could to expose their passion to the world.
I began with wanting to capture the subjects as individuals, in a series of portraits which would contrast them with their everyday attire, to portraying them as their chosen figure; as the submissive or the domineering.
Some had never spoken to their parents about it, some had openly written best selling books on their ties with BDSM.
But what really began to captivate me during the shoot became both the premise of the shoot, and the title of the series: ‘scene’.
When two partners interested in BDSM come together, whether that may be sexually, intimately or as friends; this can bee deemed as a ‘scene’.
“I’m passionate because we are so quick to class things as taboo when they really shouldn’t be. It’s fun, sex and sexuality and nothing to be ashamed of and if we were all a little more open the world would be a better place”.
During the shoot I would ask the subjects what is what about BDSM that attracted them, and keeps them passionate to this day and one word began to reoccur over and over again; trust.
It was clear that BDSM to these guys was all about trust, this became apparent whilst photographing each person, as an individual and as a couple. Both parties depending on who is the most dominant, sacrifices their safety in some scenes, giving everything to those they have chosen to take charge.
“There is a genuine level of Magic: of power and self-transformation in the exploration of self and archetype – of becoming what we image and desire. That’s empowerment beyond most other experiences in your life.”
After this the series quickly became focused on this interaction between the couples in this case ‘the handler and pup’ (above).
My usual dark and dramatic aesthetics fit well with this series in the sense that the choice of background was lycra, an animalistic element to shoot with the material contorting like skin.
Rustic elements like crates gave hint to a more traditional theme, which was my way of classifying this subculture as one that is not only a big part of our society, whether some may like that or not; but BDSM is one that has been around a whole lot longer. It became much more than a series, but for the BDSM community, it was a statement.
A statement to which as a photographer I’m proud to have help them make.
See the whole series @ reecepickering.com