There’s nothing quite as luxurious and desirable as the (well produced) book of erotic photographs, but either it’s a dying art this days – at least for contemporary photographer – or I’ve just been looking in the wrong places (and that’s certainly a possibility). My bookshelves are heaving with such works, but there hasn’t been a new addition for some years. So Steve Diet Goedde’s Extempore is most welcome – a beautifully produced volume that stands as a work of art in itself, and features some of the most interestingly impressive fetish photography that I’ve seen in quite some time.
Fetish photography stands aside from other erotic photography in that it often doesn’t involve any nudity, and that’s true of the work here – only a small percentage of the imagery has even bare breasts. Rather, the photos feature latex-clad models, with the emphasis on tight, shiny and high heeled. Most – though not all – of the photography is black and white, and features the sort of too-cool-for-school alt.glamour models that students of the genre will be familiar with.But if you think that this is sounding all too predictable, then bear with me. There’s more to this than you might think.
While the clothes and the models (among them Masuimi Max,underground filmmaker Marne Lucas and porn stars Stoya, Midori and Skin Diamond) might be very much the sort of thing you’d expect to find here, Goedde’s approach to the subject is refreshingly informal. His photographs are crisp and well staged, but he’s not allowing the sometimes suffocating seriousness of the fetish scene to control him. Much of the photography takes place outdoors – often in classic slices of Americana – or in domestic situations, rather than in the controlled world of the studio or the dark dungeons of such fetish imagery. And the girls look like they are having fun – there is an informality to the images that is quite refreshing, as if these are behind-the-scenes moments from a much more controlled shoot. That’s probably because they are – candid moments from more serious shoots, the moments of relaxation and honesty that comes when the artful and controlled posed is dropped. Similarly, the photography has a more spontaneous and casual air about it – the rules of the game are not at play here.
Fetish photography often seems a challenge. It’s easy to slip into cliché and contrivance, often as photographers seem stymied by the twin desires of creative something sexy while denying it has anything to do with sex – I’ve seen models on both the fetish and burlesque scene struggle with this too, clinging to a curious belief that what they are doing is somehow entirely removed from the world of Playboy or Penthouse, strip club or sex show, when in fact it’s all just variations on a theme. But Goedde’s work here – dating from the mid-1990s onwards – comes the closest to making an actual separation between erotica and kink that I’ve seen, and yet I don’t even think that is the intention (though Andi Campognone’s introduction reference this very point, so perhaps it is). This is, rather, the work that emerges when photographer and model feel relaxed with each other and there is no need here for walls to be put up or sexuality denied. This is kink, but it’s informal kink – the point where the Domme steps back from her role (which some Dommes seem unable to ever do, of course) and the unapproachably hot, effortlessly cool latex-clad beauty cracks a grin and reveals her humanity and approachability. Erotica is, after all, about literal role play – actors playing a part and presenting a hyper-sexual, hyper-sexy version of themselves to the world. Some people might not appreciate being given a peek behind the curtain – the fetish world is one that particularly thrives on fantasy, after all – but for me, it’s a refreshing approach.
Goedde’s images might be impressively informal, but they are presented here with care and attention. There is enough space to allow the images to breathe, and both the reproduction and paper stock are impressive – this feels like an art book, and I can’t always say that about art books. There’s substance to this project, not only in content but in style. It is very much worthy of your attention.