The 'King of Fetish' gives his thoughts on voyeurism, motocross, and gifs ahead of his exhibition, 'GLORY HOLE.'
Over the course of his 30-plus year career, Rick Castro has racked up some enviable credits. He’s photographed Ron Athey, Gore Vidal, and the 14th Dalai Lama to name just a few. His clients as a stylist and costume designer have included Bette Midler and David Bowie. In the haze of ’80s Los Angeles, he counted Michèle Lamy and Rick Owens as close friends and went on to photograph his father for the Rick Owens AW14 lookbook. But the bulk of Castro’s work and the heart and soul of his practice is fetish photography, ranging from erotic bedroom S&M to beach-side bums and motocross racers.
The photographer lends his extensive archive of fetish photography to RICK CASTRO: GLORY HOLE, an online exhibition with Tom of Finland Store. Opening today and on view through November, the gallery spans work from the early ’90s to present, concentrating on little seen or unseen work. The works on display are diverse—BDSM and bondage fantasies, outtakes from commissioned editorials, mystical, methodical meditations on male form—but all betray Castro’s cinematic eye for the right moment, angle, or subject. The ‘King of Fetish’ spoke with Document about how he ‘looks’ in advance of the opening: how he harnesses his photographic memory, his case for voyeurism, and why we should all be improving our attention spans.
Clara Malley—To hone in on a few of the photos in particular, —I’m thinking about the motocross series as well as the photos with the masks and the surfing images—they have this mystical quality to them. Some look like they’re stills from a movie. Is that something I may be reading onto them? It was something that stood out to me, looking at various scenes from these moments in time.
Rick Castro—Well, I’m very pleased that that’s how you see it because that’s definitely my intention. I have a very cinematic mind. I have a photographic memory for now. I say, ‘for now’ because both of my parents have Alzheimer’s, so we’ll see what happens. But I have a very sharp photographic memory. I can remember what people wore like 15, 20 years ago. I can remember what people said. I express myself better with images, and I think that when you have a few variations of the same image, it tells a complete story. I’m wanting to put a cinematic edge on a still image. And then the mystical part is also. You’re reading into to all the parts that are me, and I’m very pleased that you’re seeing that. These are all things that are really special to me. Fetish for me is mysticism: the idea of creating an image that’s a still, but it tells a story and lasts forever.
Clara—Is there anything that draws you to certain thematic elements, like the motocross or the surf images?
Rick—Those particular series were for my more commercial shoots. With the motocross idea, when I met the model, he told me that he rode bikes. My brother and I have had motorcycles since we were kids, so that’s my brother’s bike. That’s like a 1970 Yamaha which I think is incredible looking. It has such a basic structure to it.
As far as the surfer, even though I live in California, I’m really not much of a beach person. But this particular guy I met was a surfer. I thought that was very amusing because I didn’t know that many actual surfers. I followed him at the crack of dawn—oh my god four or five in the morning—to catch the waves. I was like, ‘Don’t even act. Act like I’m not here. Do what you do, and I’m just going to document it.’ So that became a series, and I always have to put in the erotic…you know. There’s no two ways about that.
Clara—I wanted to discuss voyeurism with you a little bit. Do you take it as an inextricable element of the erotic photography or is it something that you’re sort of trying to bump up against or challenge in some way?
Rick—Well, I like voyeurism, so I am a voyeur. I have an obsessive nature. I like fixation. So, I think becoming a photographer is a way to do that without getting arrested. [Laughs] No, but it’s also a way to enjoy what you do with people gladly being part of it, you know? I don’t want to be just somebody there that’s making people uncomfortable, but when you have the camera, that gives you license to look as deeply as you want or as you can. I mentioned to you how I have a very cinematic mind. I’ve noticed over the years that sometimes when I look at people close on, it throws people off. But I just really look! I really look at things. I really look at life.
I’ve told other photographer friends of mine and people who are starting off in their career. Whether they like it or not, I say, ‘You can’t just see something and think you’re gonna catch it. You have to look through that viewfinder and hone in on what you want to see. That viewfinder is your mind’s window.’ To me, that’s all there is to photography. You can be as technical as you want, have all the equipment you want, and all the assistants you want, but if you don’t look, you’re not gonna get it.
Clara—There are all of these barriers, technical and otherwise, that are sort of being imposed; I spoke to Slava Mogutin for the XXX Files show, and we were talking a lot about how online platforms of all sorts are changing the landscape for artists doing any kind of BDSM or fetish work.
Rick—I have been at it since ’86 and even earlier than that. At that time, I got a lot of resistance, but I never really had a special place to put it. Once the internet exploded, then like-minded people find like-minded people and for a period of time, up until recently, you could really post whatever you wanted and find your audience. What’s insidious now is this whole neo-censorship. I have a very hard time with it. I guess that’s the backlash of having a voice. It’s interesting how these platforms start and the voice is a personal voice, but then corporates come in and just, sort of, take it away.
And there’s so many reference points to choose from that if you don’t hone in on what is being said, you get lost. It’s media overload, and attention deficit is so prevalent. I’m from an era where I could watch a two, three hour movie, and think nothing of it, and go back and watch it again. I have a really hard time with the gif and meme ideal. [Laughs] Like to me, I’ll just take a photo. What is a gif? It’s supposed to be like a minute or something I forgot what time amount is.
Clara—Yeah, it’s like a few seconds max.
Rick—And now they’re doing these, they call them films, but Netflix is producing these films that are 17 minutes. What’s wrong with taking time? There’s nothing wrong with taking your time. You have your whole life and you should use all of it. I don’t understand why everything has to be so compacted into a millisecond. So, that would be my general take, and do not let put up with any form of censorship. If you do, you’re doomed.
RICK CASTRO: GLORY HOLE opens June 26 and runs through September 2019. All photographs from Castro’s exhibition are available exclusively for purchase through the Tom of Finland Store as signed, limited edition prints for the duration of the exhibition.