“Fetish people see my work as fashion, and fashion people see it as fetish,” he explains when we meet on the outskirts of Amsterdam to talk about his work, and in particular his high-concept Rubber Fifi project.
Fortunately Massimo doesn’t see the ‘fetish or fashion’ thing as a problem. “I’m happy to be in the middle,” he says. “I do this because I like it.
“I prefer doing it the way I like. If people like it, they like it; if not, not. It’s not like I’m looking for recognition either from the fetish scene or the fashion scene… although where it comes, it’s nice.”
Netherlands-based Van der Leeuw’s fetish photography career officially began around five years ago when his latex-designer wife Barbara Sandri was preparing to launch her Ardita Fetish Fashion label.
Ardifoto came into being as the label’s official publicity photographer. And as Barbara’s reputation for uniquely patterned/textured garments grew, so her partner’s photography achieved acclaim for its uniquely lustrous renderings of rubbery subject matter.
Talking to Massimo, it quickly becomes clear that determination not to make images that looks like anyone else’s work has always been a major creative driving force for him. And he has no interest in playing the numbers game.
“In photography but also in fashion, everything becomes a copy of a copy. It’s very easy to see which pictures get the most likes on Facebook etc, and making something like that is not hard to do. But that’s not I want; I want to go my own way.”
I can’t help thinking that creating the kind of highly detailed, sparkly images of latex that populate the Ardita website, the Ardifoto website and the two brands’ respective Facebook pages might have been enough in itself for some photographers.
But with the Rubber Fifi project, we see Massimo’s understanding of light taking his work to a whole new level and turning the potential limitations of an all-white studio space into a magnificent creative opportunity.
Rubber Fifi evolved from Massimo’s creative partner- ships with his wife and with model Rachael Vee, an ardent early supporter of Ardita. It was originally a way for him to get back into photography after health issues obliged him to give it up for a while last year.
Before his break, he had just (almost) finished building a studio, and now, ready to get back in the saddle, he wanted to find something new to shoot in it. He also wanted this new idea to be as simple as possible to execute.
He decided to take inspiration from heavy rubber (which he’d always wanted to find his own way of photographing), and to focus on shooting models wearing hoods, as this would conveniently remove the need for MUA and hair styling.
It all properly came together after he and Barbara stumbled upon a big inflatable poodle being advertised on a furnishing website. A longtime fan of Snoopy, Garfield and similar dog-based newspaper comic strips, Massimo had a lightbulb moment:
“Not only could the dog be a prop, but it could be the protagonist of my shoots.” Once acquired, the blow-up dog quickly became tagged Fifi.
Soon all kinds of ideas for settings and short stories began filling the couple’s heads. Now all that was left was to find a suitable model. Learning that Rachael was keen to do more heavy rubber, they proposed a collaboration, and she accepted.
Shooting Rubber Fifi in an all-white studio was a major factor that would separate the work from Massimo’s normal location-based shoots. But it also created new problems that had to be overcome.
For example, you lose the atmosphere that a location normally provides. With a hooded model, you have very little facial expression to work with. And movement, for a model clad in layers of restrictive rubber, is not that easy.
Therefore much more depends on the photographer’s choice of lighting, lenses and shooting angles. And communication between photographer and model becomes vitally important. Fortunately Rachael proved the perfect partner for this.
“It was a not a nice year for me last year,” Massimo says. “And for Rachael it was also a hard year. We were both a little bit in the same position and Fifi helped us both, so it’s as much her project as my project.”
Rachael’s (well-deserved) position as Number One Rubber Fifi Model is reflected in our choice of banner and cover images for this Fetishistas cover interview/portfolio. She also features in 23 of the 32 images in our two galleries below.READ MORE
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