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A Fetish for Photography

Rik Sanchez is a lucky man. We’re halfway through the interview when I ask him how far he gets involved with his art. It’s a question he’s obviously used to answering. "I’m a photographer," he insists. "It’s just that all my friends happen to be S&M queens."

To give the man his due, he may be doing all he can to push the local S&M scene to a wider audience, but he’s only got his friends’ interests at heart. His real passion lies in the field of fetish photography, where he’s a well known and highly sought after lens-man. He makes a living shooting what he loves, examples of which can be seen in Little Devil and Her Friends, an exhibit he’s holding at Slices Cafe, Osaka, from March 22nd. I ask him about his choice of venue. Are the general public really ready for bondage over breakfast?

"I did one a long time ago at another cafe," he laughs. "Black and white fetish photography. It’s not too extreme, so people seem to like it. Something different, you know? Not like flowers, or the countryside, or a temple, but something new." So, why Slices? Why not a club? "I’ve known the owner for a while, and he’s into photography. It’s a good place and a lot of people go there, which is cool ’cause if you go to a regular gallery, you only go for the opening event. After that, people don’t really go, so your work doesn’t get seen. If it’s in a cafe, people go everyday."

Rik’s been doing the Japanese fetish thing for a long while, but he came to it via the S&M scene. "A friend of mine was doing gothic parties in Osaka," he recalls. "I was shooting videos back then, so he suggested I go along and shoot some of his events. So I went along, met the owner, and started shooting videos for him. I was the only foreigner shooting stuff, so people would notice me there, and when they planned events they’d invite me to shoot them, too. I did piercing events, tattoo events, S&M events, and as I did I got to know more people in the scene."

His main work these days comes through magazine shoots and flyer design for related events. You can find a lot of his work in the Tokyo-based publication S&M Sniper, through which he travels the world snapping the scenes from the scene. En route, he’s become quite a connoisseur, despite his instance that it’s just a job. "People assume I’m really hardcore and have a dungeon in my house, but really – I am just a photographer!" Dungeon or not, there can’t be many English-speaking photographers you can turn to for the bondage lowdown.

Intrigued, but as yet uninitiated, I ask him what I ought to expect from the Japanese S&M scene. He tells me it’s smaller than those abroad, but it’s growing. "I went to a party a few weeks ago that had like 500 or 600 people, but elsewhere you might expect 2000 or so."

But 600 people seems like a lot to me. "It’s getting bigger," he admits, "but it’s still a very small scene. Not so many people know about it, and you have to know where the parties are, but that’s getting easier with the Internet. I’m trying to get the Kansai Scene – especially the S&M scene and the fetish scene – known elsewhere. You know, it’s not only Tokyo! There’s an Osaka scene as well! There’s a lot of stuff here."

Feeling like a Victorian prude in a high-neck dress, I admit that I know very little about what goes on in an S&M club. Rik’s answer is surprising. "In many ways it’s safer than a normal club," he tells me. "My friends never get hit on or have their ass pinched. You’ll see a lot of people doing S&M or being naked, or whatever, and if you want to touch them, you just ask. They’ll say yes or no, but it’s all consensual. There’s an unwritten rule where you never do anything without asking."

"If you go, you can expect stuff from the very regular to the very extreme – needles and blood play, really hardcore. There might be someone in the audience getting whipped. Sometimes you might have little rooms off to the side where people are doing full on S&M."

Bloody play? Whippings? Doesn’t sound too safe to me…

"But you’ve got to remember," he counters, "one of the things that attracts people in the first place is that whatever happens, it’s all consensual. They all want that to happen. That guy wants to be whipped, that woman wants to whip him, so they get together. No matter how hard it seems, it’s all being done because people want to do that."

In a perverse way, it’s a great example of the live and let live principle at work. People strip away their prejudices and expose their innermost fantasies, and everyone walks away satisfied. Meanwhile, Rik can be found recording these outpourings of expression for posterity. "I want to catch the moment where they’re really into it; where they’re not acting, but just really enjoying the moment." And, just incase it’d slipped our suspicious minds, he adds, "It’s just my job. I’m just a photographer."

Sure you are, Rik. The luckiest photographer I know.

More on Rik and his scene can be found at www.riksanchez.net