“Take a walk on the wild side,” beckons the secondary title of Tony Mitchell’s new anthology of visual kink, Sex: Take a Walk of the Wild Side — Masterpieces of Erotic Fantasy Photography. However, the title is a bit of a misnomer, as the contents of this provocative and powerful photography book have little to do with sex in the conventional wisdom, and focus wholly on the fetish scene.
Sex is an act, while fetish is a concept, and Mitchell’s anthology is both highly cerebral and downright smutty. Fetish is the art of fixation; finding your kick in something other than the norm, be that a fantasy, an escape, a role-playing game or just an object which represents something forbidden, taboo and irresistibly desirable.
The fetishes explored in Sex run the gamut of all the kinky classics — lesbianism, latex, corsetry, bondage and torture, naughty nurses, naughty cops, naughty teachers, etc. — and also touch on more extreme facets, such as gas masks, surgical fantasies and inflatable, vacuum-sealed rubber cat-suits.
The photographs are bold, lush, provocative and enticing. Visually, the work is transfixing, and this is the sort of coffee-table book that will reach out, seize your attention and hold it (or tie it up to the bedpost, in this case) until you flip to the last page.
The book’s content falls into the clichéd at times, at least from a creative standpoint within the realm of fetish. Gary and Pierre Silva’s “Sinful Daughter” depicts a miniskirted nun in a latex habit bearing a massive black strap-on, which she guides toward the open mouth of the standard pious and virginal schoolgirl on her knees. It’s certainly a rather disturbing image to the average vanilla bystander, but in reality it’s rather been-there, done-that in fetish imagery; pick up any copy of the internationally acclaimed fetish magazine Skin Two and you’ll see what I mean.
The artistry in documenting this world of spanks and stiletto heels lies not in the shock factor, but in turning the camera on its side — along with your preconceived judgments — and searching for the inside perspective. True fetishism relies on the brain, not elaborate rubber cat-suits; those are only tools to achieve the physical and psychological ideals in question.
A few photographers grasp this, and the book reveals several moments of breathtaking beauty, such as Roman Kasperski’s “Untitled 1997,” which depicts a Greta Garbo doppelgänger in sharply contrasted black-and-white shadows. Every inch of her pose and demeanor is indicative of a glamorous starlet from the 1940s — except for her nude, lush body, bound and shackled by heavy, cold, stainless-steel restraints.
Then there’s the downright comical, such as Alexander Horn’s “Hugging Christmas,” which features a woman covered head-to-toe in a screaming-red rubber suit, as she affectionately, almost sweetly, hugs a green rubber Christmas tree to her body.
Sex also offers what many similar books do not: a loose timeline, which provides a gradual transition from the classic pinup erotica of the ’50s to the hardcore bondage images of today. The book opens with a few splendidly campy and charming shots of modern pinups in garters and artfully posed looks of coy innocence; it closes with a section devoted to the extremes of fetish — and, you guessed it, there’s everything you could imagine (and some things you’d prefer not to imagine) in between.
Wherever your own personal perversions may fall in that land of “in between,” you’ll be able to find something in the pages of Sex to turn you on.
Sarah Klein is a Metro Times staff writer. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.