The book sprung from a three-year personal project in which Stockholm-based Belluso photographed ‘real’ people from the Swedish fetish scene. His subjects were essentially self-selecting and most were private practitioners rather than models or other ‘out’ scenesters.
Andrea personally financed the printing of 1,000 copies, the vast majority of which were soon sold — not bad for a hefty, high quality tome priced at €150 before you even added the shipping cost!
Swedish Fetish soon acquired the status of a unique and highly collectable record of fetish culture — though sadly one that was no longer obtainable.
Until, that is, some ten years later, Andrea’s wife and manager (and House of Belluso CEO) Amanda discovered the last 100 copies stashed away in boxes in a storage space.
“I was like, What the fuck?“ she recalls when I meet the couple for lunch in London’s Borough Market on a sunny July day. “You have all these beautiful books sitting here? That is not OK – we have to get them out there.”
And that’s just what today’s lunch is about. Having met the pair on an earlier London visit and heard about the fairytale rediscovery of this legendary fetish artefact, I requested a formal interview to get the project’s full back-story on record.
I also wanted to find out just how photographing fetish people permanently changed the way a top professional photographer approached his day job.
This subsequent London visit by the couple made an interview possible, and I think I can say it went well. I came away from our lunch not only with the story I was looking for, but also with an offer to make the book available exclusively to Fetishistas fans at half its original selling price — see bottom of this article!
Andrea Belluso got his first commission to shoot for Italian Vogue at the age of 19, and his subsequent 30-year career as a photographer and video producer has seen him working with such fashion icons as Linda Evangelista, Christy Turlington and Naomi Campbell.
For years, he explains, he had admired the latex costumes worn by movie superheroes, as well as items such as “good-looking high heels”, without realising that these were actually fetishes.
Unimpressed with most of the photography he’d seen of such stuff, he was keen to create his own images of “latex women”. In 2005 he was able to begin doing so, when he met Tintomara, owner of “a whole wardrobe of latex clothes” who expressed a wish to be his muse.
It was the start of Andrea Belluso’s voyage of fetish discovery.
Through Tintomara he met Elva, celebrated model and host of Sweden’s Dekadance parties. And with the encouragement of these two, he began photographing denizens of the Swedish fetish scene.
Initially there was no thought of producing a book. But when Belluso showed art director friend Armando Chitolina the first 50 images from his shoots, Chitolina insisted that a book must be the final outcome.
In the next two years, Andrea produced more than 500 finished images, and with Armando onboard as creative director, the final images for Swedish Fetish were chosen.
The relatively sombre tone of this big coffee-table volume, with its all-black pages and photographs in monochrome or muted colours, evokes earlier days of fetish book publishing when such visual elements were sometimes employed to add artistic gravitas and/or legitimacy to edgy subject matter.
But, says Andrea, both the style of photography in Swedish Fetish (especially the noir-ish lighting) and the book’s design (with no white pages or page numbering) both evolved organically from the circumstances in which its subjects were shot — whether in private dungeons or Belluso’s studio.
“When you go though the whole book there’s a strong sense of atmosphere,” he says. “Even the photos not taken in dungeons have more than a suggestion of darkness about them.
“I think a lot of people want to see that in modern fetish photography. But there aren’t that many people who can light stuff that way, even though they can shoot very nice, brightly-lit images of girls in latex.”
Happily, he has seen more fetish photographers “starting to go that way” in recent times. “But for me,” he adds, “in terms of lighting, the book was really the beginning of my playing with light as opposed to having preconceptions about how a picture would be lit.”
Expanding on this later, he explains: “I’ve always been very good at visualising how a picture would look. I would set up the lights and it would never take me very long to do that. I had a clear picture in mind and what I imagined was exactly what came out of my camera.
“Because of the way I was shooting the book — because with most of the people I photographed, I didn’t know who they were, what they looked like, what they were gonna do or anything like that — I could not plan my lighting, I could not plan my shots.
“So everything was spontaneous in a way. I was creating the light after a five-minute talk with whoever I was photographing, and for me that was a totally new way of working.
“I would just pick the lights almost as if it was them calling me rather than me choosing them, and I was just a vehicle for putting them in place where they wanted to be placed. And that’s how the book was lit, all of it.
“And that’s how I shoot today – with everything. For a commercial campaign I will create my sketches and whatever, but I know that everything will change when I’m on set, and it will do it like that in a second, and that is thanks to the book.
“If you go onto my new commercial website (recently refreshed), first of all I don’t separate the website into different categories like fashion, beauty and whatever, but I separate it in lights.
“And for the first time I’m putting my fetish work out on my commercial site, so I’m not hiding anything. It’s all there.”
Even today, I suggest, that’s quite a bold move. Commercial ’togs with a reputation to protect who shoot fetish ‘on the side’ usually showcase their fetish work separately for fear of scaring off straight-laced clients.
“And I did until recently,” Belluso admits. “But then I went, like, this book is probably the most important period of my career, and that’s what created who I am today as a photographer.”
Even so, Andrea didn’t completely escape the negative reactions that can bedevil mainstream photographers who openly associate with fetish.
When Swedish Fetish came out, he reveals, “I lost four of my main clients. They blamed it on the book, saying ‘we cannot associate our name with you since you have published this book’.
“I was amazed at this, but I then found out it was just an excuse to explain that they could no longer afford to pay me. It coincided with the recession in Sweden when all the big companies started going bankrupt.
“They stopped using photographers of a certain level, and were using cheaper photographers and just seeing their sales going lower and lower, which was not a surprise.”
Belluso’s fetish associations were, however, no impediment to his next project being exhibited at Stockholm’s prestigious Museum of Modern Art. The subject of this new work was kids with African origins living in Sweden.
“It was so very niched and different from the fetish scene,” he says, “so people were surprised by that, and I wasn’t at all.
“I didn’t quite understand the surprise. Because for me, everything I do has its own energy and it changes. Through my art I really want to have fun and explore every single area.”
Photographing private fetish people for books is less common these days, due at least in part, no doubt, to the plentiful supply of exhibitionistic young fetish models happy to be photographed for public consumption.
Admittedly the book does feature a couple of well-known scene models — Elva and Sister Sinister (in her earlier Photobitch guise) — and one professional domme.
But 99 percent of the book’s subjects are lifestyle people who, says Belluso, “came up to me during the whole process and asked me to take pictures of them, and invited me to their private dungeons or asked to be invited to my studio for their sessions”.
It resulted in quite a mix of characters. “Some of them are top bankers and famous personalities, though you don’t see their faces in the book. Also, it’s all sorts of body shapes and all sorts of ages.”
Andrea says one of the things he quickly grew to love about the scene is how non-judgmental and inclusive it is. Of course, he agrees, you can still find judgmental people in fetish, like you can anywhere.
“But if we are to generalise, the scene itself is very welcoming to everybody. It’s non-judgmental going through all genders, and it’s welcoming everybody with total respect, which is something I really love.”
However, the photographer is quite upfront in admitting that, while he greatly admires the gender inclusivity of the scene, Swedish Fetish doesn’t fully represent it. But only because all his subjects were self-selecting.
One such self-selector was a lifestyle dominatrix who asked if she could be photographed with her slave partner. Andrea agreed, and after he’d photographed them in his studio, she offered to provide a testimonial, which appears in the book as a page of text headed When soft meets hard.
Apart from this and an introduction by the photographer, the book’s only other text is by an anonymous female psychologist.READ MORE – GO TO PAGE 2 OF 2
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