By the age of 13, Steve Diet Goedde was fascinated with taking photographs, and from 1990 onward he has turned his lens to erotic depictions. His work has been compiled into two hardcover volumes entitled The Beauty of Fetish. A career retrospective was released on DVD in 2005 entitled "Living Through Steve Diet Goedde" (Slish Pix). His exquisite imagery includes erotic icons such as Dita Von Teese, Masuimi Max, Aria Giovanni to the Porcelain Twinz. His work has been likened to that of Ansel Adams, if only the late American photographer had been interested in fetishism.
Q: What drew you to work with erotic photography?
A: I had been playing around with photography since I was a little kid. My father was a serious amateur photographer who taught me the basics, including darkroom work. Once I got older, I avoided taking erotic photographs for many years strictly for the reason that I felt the genre was too littered with clichés.
If I was ever going to do erotic work, it would have to be an honest and unique take on the subject. Luckily for me, this happened in 1990 when my girlfriend at the time and I returned from a trip to London where she bought some new latex clothing, and I had also just purchased a new Mamiya 645 camera. As a way of testing it out, we decided to take some photos of her new latex on our back porch.
I took about 10 images, and of those photographs four are considered some of my most recognizable images. I quickly received positive attention for this work in the local Chicago fetish and art scene, and I haven't stopped since.
Q: Any changes in your perceptions of fetish beauty since the publication of your two books?
A: My styling interests have always remained constant. I only photograph what I find visually interesting. I also want to make clear that my work does not revolve strictly around fetish fashion. I'm also into vintage fashion along with classic and modern cutting-edge couture.
Q: Are your models bringing their own personal takes into your photography?
A: Every model is different in what they bring to a photo shoot... In regards to clothing, most will bring their own, and we will sit down and choose what to use. It's usually their clothes but sometimes designers will loan us outfits. I have a very specific styling aesthetic so I'm very particular as to what kind of clothing is used.
In regards to energy, emotion, every model is different. Many have an unlimited amount of personality and know how to project it in front of a camera. However, I also like to work with less experienced models because they have a certain naiveté which adds something that the experienced models can't.
Q: I’m curious, what do you make of your photographs of suggestive models in natural areas like the Redlands or the Salton Sea?
A: As a photographer who relies on locations and not studios, I'm always looking for new places to shoot. In Los Angeles strict permit laws make it difficult to simply shoot anywhere public. As a result, I'm always relying on friends' places or going out to remote areas where it's easy to shoot and not be seen. Such is the case with the Salton Sea, which provides a very surreal environment with a relative amount of privacy.
Q: In your recent erotic work, are there performative, narrative qualities in your photo processes, like with Evelyn jumping in the kitchen?
A: I usually don't like to put much thought into my photographs. I just let them happen naturally. In the case of Evelyn jumping in the kitchen, that photograph came about as a result of limitations. We had intended to do an outdoor shoot that day but we were greeted with a day of rain and thunderstorms. So as an improvisation, I came up with the idea of shooting her jumping in my kitchen. It's also one of the rare moments where I use strobes in my work.
Q: I notice you’re using Western and some Asian models in your photos, like Jade Vixen. Why do you think there’s a relative absence of those with darker skin tones in fetish imagery?
A: In the 20 years that I've been photographing fetish imagery, I have only photographed three African-American models. Images of Tamm and Shantelle were published in my books. I'd love to shoot more darker models but there seems to be a limited amount in the fetish scene unfortunately.
Q: You’re using a variety of cameras including a pinhole. Are you interested in how different cameras can alter the suggestiveness in your imagery?
A: Yes, very much so. Different cameras have varying ways of looking at the world, even through one photographer's eyes. When I shoot with my Mamiya medium-format camera – what most of my classic black and white work was shot with – I have a more refined, structural approach to my images. I also shoot with a Yashica T4 35mm point-and-shoot for more spontaneous captures. Recently I've started experimenting with pinhole cameras in order to achieve a less sharp, dated and romantic look.
Q: Curious, you shot your Louboutin Barbie with your iPhone. How do you think that aspects of fetish fashion have influenced haute fashion runways often, while the practised ambiance of BDSM is more apart?
A: Fetish fashion seems to regularly make appearances on the fashion runways. So many times I've heard the phrase "fetish makes the mainstream!" Madonna did it back when her Sex book came out and more recently with the designs of Alexander McQueen and Dior. It seems like it's OK to borrow the imagery once in a while as long as the BDSM lifestyle doesn't come along with it. That's just too decadent and kinky!
Q: You’ve collaborated with the composer Robert Waechter. How did you find combining your imagery with music in this instance?
A: Robert had contacted me initially as a fan of my work and was looking for some way of collaborating on a project. Since music is linear, Robert was hoping that I made films or videos which could benefit with the addition of custom classical musical soundtracks. Unfortunately I'm not much of a linear artist. I'm better at making artistic statements which only exist at a 60th of a second. Video requires a beginning, middle and end. It's a completely different art form for me. It's like asking me to do sculpture.
I have a very strong connection with music but most of my appreciation of classical music is on a textural level. I'm somewhat tone-deaf so it's very difficult for me to pick out instruments which are played simultaneously. As a result, I mainly pick up on texture and the general emotional temperature of any given piece. So because I "see" music texturally, I find it very visual when I close my eyes. I see tactile landscapes and compositional patterns which flow across my inner vision from right to left. So when choosing a style of music which best represents my photography, it definitely has to be non-vocal and textural, like classical or experimental music.
To me, many of my photographs are already music. I like using a narrow depth of field which creates out-of-focus elements in my photographs. These elements act as bass tones and anything that pops into focus from these fields act as percussive points. And then there's the whole compositional layout of the photograph which, of course, to me acts as the compositional structure of a piece of music.
Q: It’s intriguing how fetish appearances could influence experimental sound works? Are you interested in how your fetish imagery could relate to other cultural processes?
A: I believe all art forms have certain underlying common denominators. Whether it's photography, music, painting, sculpture, dance or literature, all good art consists of structure and emotion. It's always interesting to see how an artist of one medium interprets the work of an artist working in an entirely different field. That's why the classical interpretations of my work by Robert Waechter are so intriguing.
I'm sure it would be interesting to see my work interpreted through the minds of sculptors, poets, painters, etc. In fact, San Francisco-based painter Nancy Peach has recently done paintings based on several of my photographs. Note: if anyone wants to use another artist's work for inspiration, make sure you get permission first!
Q: Do you think your tendency of photographing models outside of BDSM contexts brings different impressions of fetishism in common culture?
A: I always avoid shooting fetishistic scenarios in stereotypical environments (dungeons, medical rooms, etc.). I prefer the mundane environments of everyday life. I feel this familiarity helps the viewer to better relate to the images. Sure, the models are dressed in these fantastical costumes, but they're inhabiting what look like regular kitchens or backyards. It's all about connecting with the viewer into making them think this can happen to them.
More info: stevedietgoedde.com