A Conversation with Steve Diet Goedde
M. Stephens: A biographical/career question that our readers may be curious about. How did you become a famous fetish photographer?
GOEDDE: Ever since I was a young kid, I had two interests that would someday ultimately collide: fetishism and photography. I guess the “famous” part of the question would be answered in that I’ve provided quality work to a genre which is historically void of serious, artistically-crafted, and aesthetically-minded art. When most people think of fetish photography, they think of cheesy whips-n-chains type imagery. I’ve provided the world a new, respectable way of seeing fetish-oriented art. By the way, I’m not claiming to be the only artist producing quality work in this genre; I’m just one of the first to get a major art publisher to release this kind of work to the general public. There’s many other great fine art fetish photographers out there.
M. Stephens: You tend to work very simply, without lights, flash, cropping, or manipulation of the images in the development process. With so many tech toys available, why do you prefer the bare bones approach?
GOEDDE: I keep my methods simple in order to maintain and create a more real and identifiable environment both on the set and in the final photographs. It’s important that my environments and situations appear real to the viewer. I think it draws them in more when they can relate to a non-studio environment. Also I have no idea how to use a flash. Although my photographs are somewhat cropped in my books (to compensate for page/image size ratios), I always print and display my images full-frame, complete with neg borders. I believe in composing the shot at the moment of exposure. To me, a photograph is a window which allows other people to see how I see. If I crop an image, I feel like I’m not providing the whole story.
M. Stephens: “The Beauty of Fetish” was largely an essay in black and white. In “The Beauty of Fetish Volume II” you combine b&w with some spectacular color. How did that style evolution occur?
GOEDDE: First of all, the first book DID have quite a bit of color in it, but it was more subdued than the more vibrant work in the new book. Back then, I took an occasional color shot in the same style as my black and white work. Since then, I’ve been taking color more seriously.
M. Stephens: Black and white photography is about mood, atmosphere, and a moral view of the world in terms of light and dark. What is color photography about for you?
GOEDDE: Well, my recent color work evolved more from snapshots than from fine art color photography. My color work just represents a more whimsical look into the world I photograph. On past shoots, I’d always do a “main shoot” which would be the black and white images. On the side, I’d always take goofy behind-the-scene photographs with my point-and-shoot camera. What once were just considered personal photographs, I started to see a certain quality that these images all shared. On a fluke, I threw a bunch of these color snapshots in a gallery show I was doing last year, and the response was overwhelming. My silly behind-the-scene snapshots were now regarded as art. That inspired me to take the color work more seriously, hence the abundance in the new book.
M. Stephens: There’s a retro look and a nostalgic atmosphere to many of your photographs, are you influenced by photographers from the 30s/40s/50s/60s?
GOEDDE: Generally, yes. I’ve always had a love for artwork from other periods of time. I’m heavily inspired by turn-of-the-century portraitists like Baron Alolf de Meyer, Gertrude Kasebier, and Stieglitz. I’m also a fan of early Avedon, Lillian Bassman, and Melvin Sokolsky. Period photography is appealing to me becasue it enables the viewer to be transported to a time that is so different than their contemporary environment. But the main reason for me borrowing these elements is so my work doesn’t have an obvious contemporary look. I really don’t like to have my work identifiable from any contemparary time period. I’d hate for a viewer 5 years from now say, “Ewww, gross! That model looks sooooooo 2001!”
M. Stephens: What are your influences outside the world of photography? Artists? Writers? Film directors? Musicians?
GOEDDE: Music is my main influence for my photography. I find music very textural and I like to duplicate musical tones and rhythms in a visual sense. For instance, I work with a very thin depth of field which allows varying degrees of sharpness throughout an image. Out of focus areas represent musical bass tones, while focused areas represent percussive points, etc. The subject in the photograph provides the lyrical content for the photograph. I don’t intentionally plot all this out; it’s just how my subcon scious works when composing and printing images. Musical inspirations for me are very diverse and include Johnny Cash, the Cocteau Twins, the Melvins, Hank Williams, Tom Waits, Natacha Atlas, Shane MacGowan, X, and hundreds of others.
M. Stephens: The look of David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive strongly reminds me of your work. Is Lynch an admirer or vice versa?
GOEDDE: I’ve never had any personal communication with David Lynch, but he definitely was an early inspiration for me. The black and white photography of Eraserhead and The Elephant Man were very inspirational to me as a teenager in the early 1980s. Those films also demonstrated to me how gritty industrial settings could be visually romanticized. Alternately, I also like Lynch’s use of color, especially in Blue Velvet and The Straight Story. Mulholland Drive has a quality to it that I really appreciate, but I hadn’t thought of it as a style similar to mine. I take that question as an extreme compliment.
M. Stephens: Forty years ago, fetish fashions were for a tiny minority the sexual fringe. Now fetish influenced clothing is in the shows of Gaultier, Mugler, Westwood, Lacroix and other major designers and fetish photography is becoming a major influence in mainstream media and advertising. Why is fetish imagery moving from the fringes to the center of modern Western culture?
GOEDDE: For the last ten years now, people keep saying fetish fashion and fetish imagery is being more and more accepted in mainstream society. There was a big buzz about this topic when Madonna’s Sex book came out. True, you do see signs of fetishism in certain mainstream films, music videos, and advertisements, but as a whole I believe the imagery is still looked down upon when it’s portrayed as more than just shiny window dressing. People seem to be more accepting of the look, but when it’s associated with anything remotely sexual, then it’s extremely taboo. Even my work, as tame as it is, is looked at in horror by mainstream art galleries and magazine art directors. They see that “F” word (fetish) in the title of my books, and immediately label the work as offensive before even looking at the imagery. I have been battling this negative association for about three years now here in Los Angeles. They can’t see the art and passion behind the shiny exterior of the images. Someone recently said that fashion photographers are allowed to shoot fetish (Helmut Newton), but fetish photographers are not allowed to shoot fashion (me). I think people are too scared to deal with fetishism on a real level and can only accept it on a safe, contrived, and superficial level.
M. Stephens: You have said that in choosing models you tend to work with friends. What are the advantages of that?
GOEDDE: The main reason I work with friends is so that a feeling of trust and mutual respect is there during the shoot. That translates into the personal feel that shows up in the eventual images. I insist on my shoots being very relaxed, spontaneous, and fun. It’s hard to achieve that with a model I meet on the same day of the shoot. That’s why I always meet with models ahead of time and get to know them a little bit. It’s important they they know me a little bit too. I want them to go into a shoot knowing that it will be fun and worry-free.
M. Stephens: In setting up a shot, do you discuss its meaning with the model like she is an actress in a scene? Do you just give physical directions: stand there, put your arms up, close your eyes? What communication goes on between you and the model during a shoot?
GOEDDE: My shoots always tend to be very unplanned and spontaneous. I will usually go into a shoot with no idea what’s going to happen. For instance, on my last shoot, I arrived at the model’s house and we were going to drive around looking for locations and then just shoot wherever we found a suitable place. On our way to her car, I noticed a stairwell that had nice lines and the light was just perfect. I ended up doing the entire shoot right there. I usually take about 15 shots, and that’s it. We never made it to her car; the shoot was done, and I got what I wanted. In regards to direction, I view the model through the camera and fill it with a pleasing composition, balancing both her and the environment she occupies. On top of that, I then have to work with her expressions and body language, and once I find that perfect moment, I take the shot. Some models need more directions than others. Some are very comfortable in front of the lens and some aren’t. Since most of my models aren’t “real” models, most aren’t entirely confident during a shoot. That’s another job of mine - to make the uncomfortable model comfortable and provide the mood and expressions I need for the shots. I will try to make the shoot not really seem like a shoot. I’ll take a shot, and then just hang out and talk with the model about something else, and then maybe five minutes later, decide it’s time to try some other shot. My shoots come off as real organic - they’re not structured or terribly organized, and as a result of that, I get images that you normally wouldn’t get in a structured photoshoot environment.
M. Stephens: In choosing models how much do personality and intelligence count as opposed to looks?
GOEDDE: Personality and intelligence are even more important to me than outward appearances. Physical beauty alone will make a model come across as a mere mannequin. My work is not about external beauty.
M. Stephens: According to certain feminist perspectives of the 70s and 80s, the kind of images you create are part of a male-dominated society’s oppressive “objectification” of women for the male gaze. How do you respond to the idea that photographs like yours make objects of women and reduce women to a “merely” sexual role?
GOEDDE: The women in my photographs LOVE to wear the clothes that they wear. To them, fetish clothing gives them power. I want my work to reflect this celebration of sexual control on the part of the woman. My models are never photographed in a submissive light and are always portrayed as being in control of their sexuality.
M. Stephens: The backgrounds you choose are interesting. You have natural settings waterfalls and riverbanks; industrial backgrounds old machinery & oil tanks; retro car interiors; and then unusual interiors like swimming pools and generic, anonymous apartment complex type apartments. Please comment on your choice of settings.
GOEDDE: My locations are not purposefully selected by theme. I basically look for anything interesting and anything that provides good light to work with. The locations I choose also have to accommodate some sort of interesting inter-activity with the model. She has to occupy the spaces both compositionally and thematically (but not always).