Artistic Nude and Fetish Week
Some of my photography is of erotic and fetish subjects. Yet, surprisingly, when I am contacted by a model who wants to have a fetish shoot with me I often find that she has no clear idea what this is, or how it differs from the classic art nudes which I also shoot. The fetish photos I post on DeviantArt also attract questions and comments that indicate a lack of knowledge or understanding. I hope this article will help to explain my ideas about erotic and fetish photography, even if they may not be the same as yours. Let me start by saying that all successful fetish photography is erotic in nature, or at least tries to be. But not all erotic photography shows a fetish. Fetish photography is a species of erotic photography.
According to Wikipedia, fine art nude photography depicts the nude human body with an emphasis on form, composition, emotional content and other aesthetic qualities. Erotic interest, although often present, is secondary. With fetish photography, the erotic interest is primary, at least to the person who enjoys that fetish. Art nudes are pretty photos of nude people; fetish photos are frankly erotic photos of people who may or may not be nude.
The Urban Dictionary tells us a sexual fetish is:
A sexual fixation or obsession with usually non-sexual object. ex: socks, horses, monkeys, pain, bondage", as in:
Holy shit those socks really get me turned on because of this sock fetish of mine. *Rubs socks on body*"
The Oxford Dictionary:
"A form of sexual desire in which gratification is linked to an abnormal degree to a particular object, item of clothing, part of the body, etc."
This definition's reliance on the words "to an abnormal degree" (also found in some other dictionaries) implies that it is also possible that sexual gratification can be linked to a particular object, item of clothing or part of the body to a normal degree. How anyone would measure what degree of sexual gratification is normal versus abnormal is never explained, and is probably unknown. The normal versus abnormal distinction is probably nothing more than a subjective judgment, based on intuition.
Common sexual fetishes -- things many people consider special turn ons -- would include women's shoes, feet, leather, nylon stockings, breasts, genitals, hair, tattoos, etc.
However, today we use "fetish" much more broadly than the dictionaries suggest. Today's usage includes a desire for sexual arousal in a variety of ways that are considered -- perhaps quite wrongly -- abnormal. And, of course, the implied criticism of fetishes and the people who admit to having fetishes is that the normal is good, the abnormal bad. With literally dozens of fetishes, if not hundreds, any one fetish is likely to be statistically abnormal. On the other hand, having at least one fetish is probably quite normal.
The judgment that someone's sexual gratification is normal versus abnormal should be based on sound statistical evidence. Despite extensive research, I have found very little empirical information, and what there is is fragmentary, indirect and inconclusive. No one really knows what percent of the adult population, in which countries, has any fetishes, as no one is compelled to identify them to any statistical agency of government. Most people would be reluctant to provide any answers, or at least any honest answers, to either a governmental or a private survey that asked them what gave them sexual gratification, and to what degree. The absence of reliable statistical evidence is therefore to be expected. However, I would not be surprised to find that almost every adult who is not asexual has at least one fetish, if not more, and that these are quite harmless. If that is the case, then a person having no fetishes at all would be abnormal.
The website we are all currently on, DeviantArt, is by its very name, interested in art that deviates from the normal. While a lot of what is posted here is non-sexual in content -- photos of cars, airplanes, birds, headshots, etc., there is also a lot of erotic nudity. Surprisingly, among the nudes, the fetish images are in a minority. Today, there is a lot of normalcy and not much deviance shown on DeviantArt. I shall try to explain why that is so.
Fetishes and BDSM
There is often confusion between fetishes and what is abbreviated as "BDSM". BDSM is the acronym for Bondage, Dominance, Sadism and Masochism. And that acronym is another source of semantic confusion. A sadist or a masochist may have no fetishes, while a foot fetishist or latex clothing fetishist may be neither sadistic nor masochistic. Similarly, a couple whose relationship includes sexual dominance by one and submission by the other may have no fetishes, and may be neither sadistic nor masochistic.
Yet the Oxford dictionary gives us this example of a sentence it says is correctly using the word fetish: "At times, customers visited the clubs seeking gratification of certain fetishes such as the desire to interact with a dominant woman or to experience public humiliation or pain." In my view, the Oxford is wrong. The desire to submit to a dominant woman is not linked to an object or body part, as is a fetish. Rather, it is a prime example of the Dominance-Submission (DS) dynamic. It may or may not also include elements of Sadism-Masochism (SM).
Bondage may be an activity of either DS or SM, or of people who are not involved with either. A prominent form of bondage is Shibari, which is decorative rope tying as an art. Lumping together the letters BDSM, therefore, is confusing and misleading, as it implies that these are all parts of the same whole. In fact, they are often unrelated sexual preferences or activities. Adding fetishes into the BDSM mix merely compounds the confusion.
As a result, the terms erotic, fetish and BDSM, applied to photography, now overlap considerably, almost to the point of being interchangeable.
Fetish photos are always going to be a narrow niche, of less universal interest than fine art nudes or non-nude portraits. That is because whatever individual fetish is shown will be of interest to only a minority of the population. If you have a foot fetish you will be turned on by a photo of attractive feet, and may add that to your "favourites". But only a small percent of the population, almost exclusively male, will ever fave photos of feet. Similarly a buttocks fetishist may fave one of my "nice ass" photos, or a breasts fetishist one of my "nice tits" photos. But the foot fetishist won't usually fave a buttocks photo and vice versa. Fetish photos, therefore, appeal to niche minorities of viewers.
In contrast, because fine art nudes are more universally popular and less controversial, they will have much broader appeal. You can sometimes see such nudes as framed prints on the walls of art galleries, and some private homes. You are unlikely to see many fetish photos displayed in mainstream art galleries, and likewise, in private homes. In the mainstream culture of Western countries art nudes are considered "art" while fetish photos are considered "kinky" (used as a negative term) or even pornography. However, this situation is beginning to change, as erotic photography of all types, through popularity on the internet, moves slowly into the mainstream. DeviantArt users would not be selling prints of fetish photos if no one was buying them. As well, a few small galleries and erotic art festivals will now display fetish photography, particularly in Europe but also a in few US states like Nevada.
Many people have fetishes, but do not recognize it. Sometimes that is because they are afraid, fearful of being, or of being seen as "kinky". Or perhaps they are "abnormally" (whatever that means) turned on by photos of sexy legs, tits or ass. On the other hand there are now proudly kinky web sites such as Fetlife, where "kinky" is seen as a term of approval and photos more explicit than those permitted by DeviantArt are commonly displayed. Fetlife and Tumblr, among others, also display photos of bondage, DS and SM activities.
Fetish on DeviantArt
There are several groups here on DeviantArt that include, and some that focus on fetish drawings and photography. Their mainstream tends to be symbolic. For example John Tisbury, a well-known and successful English fetish photographer and a moderator of the Fetish Photography group here, has used as his avatar a monochrome photo (titled "Bondage Ballet") of a woman's ankles and feet on pointe in ballet slippers. The model wears leather ankle cuffs joined by a short length of chain. You can see his photo here: Bondage Ballet
Body hugging, shiny latex clothing (usually black) is common in fetish photos on DeviantArt, as well as hosiery and bare feet. Leather collars and leashes (made of chain or leather) are also common fetish themes, showing that the submissive wearer of the collar (who could be male or female) is asking to be led by, or is actually being led by a dominant partner. These photos demonstrate the merging of fetish and DS themes.
The Fetish Photography group on DeviantArt rejects photos that clearly show genitals of either sex, even if the model is wearing a collar or cuffs or any other fetish symbol. However, this group will accept photos clearly showing breasts. Thus, anyone with a fetish for genitals will have to go to another group to see these images.
How to Enjoy Fetish Photography
You may be one of those rare people with no fetishes, and no BDSM fantasies. But more likely, whether you know it or not, there are some things (like corsets or high heels) or parts of the body (perhaps breasts and buttocks) that turn you on, perhaps even "abnormally" (i.e., more than the average person). Look through the photos of various fetish photographers. Study the photos, and become aware of your gut reactions to them. Love them? Hate them? Excited by them? Bored by them? Look through the various erotic styles that show bondage, dominance and submission, and let your erotic fantasies work for you. Yes, this does go beyond just fine art nudes, with their impersonal, abstract emphasis on form. It is art that is intended to arouse you. There is no need to fear the force of the erotic. Let the force be with you. Isn't that what created you? And your children? And all of us?