While there may not be such a thing as a typical leather journey, my own experience of this subculture may be somewhat unusual.
It is approaching 18 months since I started photographing Brisbane’s leather and kink subculture, as part of my ambitious attempt to transition from media and telecommunications regulator to visual artist. About to commence my final year of a photography degree and faced with the challenge of what to do my major project on, I thought it would be fun and interesting to look at pup play – something I had only the vaguest knowledge and understanding of at the time. I had no real desire to participate but at the same time sensed that it would be – ironically – an engaging story about how we as human beings relate to one another.
To cut a long story short, my visual exploration of pup play evolved into an examination of other kinks and I was able to produce a body of work that was included in an exhibition of photojournalism earlier this year. The work provides visual account of the physical and emotional components of this often secret world and shows a playfulness and sense of connection which are often absent from the highly constructed representations of kink often found in mass media. If you have yet to see my work it can be viewed at www.rfphoto.com.au.
As a recent graduate trying to reinvent myself as a photojournalist, and with relatively little experience of kink subculture, it has been extremely gratifying to have dealt with some challenging subject matter in a manner that was fit for public consumption. An unexpected bonus was the opportunity to observe and hear the reactions that members of the public had to the work. My overwhelming sense is that viewers were genuinely intrigued and curious about what was happening the images, rather than being shocked or repelled by something they did not understand.
A person cannot spend the best part of a year immersed in any topic without considering where he or she ‘fits’ and it is particularly the case with the work I have completed over the past year-and-a-half. Portraying people’s deeply personal experiences of leather and kink has naturally led me to think about my own interests, preferences, behaviours and relationships in ways that I had not considered before – and may never have otherwise. At times that has been confronting and it has probably created more questions than it has answered. I certainly have more leather in my wardrobe than I did 18 months ago and am enjoying wearing some gear that I may not have had the confidence to wear previously. Even though I am still working out where I fit, the friends I have made and the experiences I have had have given me a better understanding of myself and new framework for thinking about situations that arise day to day.
If you had told me even six months ago that I might be elected as a member of BootCo’s management committee and be elected by the committee as its vice president, I would have said you were spending too much time in the sun. I am really honoured to be now able to contribute in this capacity to the community that has assisted me to achieve some important personal goals. I obviously do not have the knowledge and experiences of those who have been part of the subculture for much longer. But I am committed to doing what I can to make our organisation work as well as it can to promote the needs and interests of its members. I am also keen to continue documenting the stories and experiences of our members, to help us to learn about one another, promote better understanding of our subculture in the wider community and ensure that there are visual records of our activities. The physical aspects of leather and kink – the interactions, leather gear and other paraphernalia – are visually rich and well suited to visual story-telling. Please make contact with me if you are keen to have your story told!
That has been my journey so far and I am looking forward to reading about the experiences of others in the months to come.
Vice President – BootCo.