Fetish photographer Rick Castro


Photographs by Rick Castro.

Presenting another guest post from John Wisniewski who back in May contributed an interview with William E. Jones about gay film director Fred Halsted. The subject this time is Rick Castro, pioneering bondage/S&M photographer, and also the proprietor of the Antebellum Gallery in Los Angeles which bills itself as the only fetish gallery in America. Castro has worked with Joel-Peter Witkin and Bruce LaBruce, and also photographed subjects as diverse as the Dalai Lama and Kenneth Anger, neither of them in bondage, unfortunately. As before, John offers a list of ten questions. Read on to discover why hustlers always used to wear white jeans (I have wondered about this)…

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John Wisniewski: When did you begin photographing?

Rick Castro: 1986…around June…. My first photo was of my longtime friend (and former GF!), Odessa. I was a wardrobe stylist at the time, so I dressed her like Morticia Addams. Very high contrast/high shadowed B&W.

My second photo was of Tony Ward. I cast him for his first “mainstream” photo shoot. Editorial for a now defunct men’s magazine, INSTYLE, (published by porn mag IN TOUCH). We were working for photographer Albert Sanchez at the time. Between takes I’d dressed him up in full leather fantasy—leather hood, harness, gauntlets, codpiece, boots and horsetail!

JW: Whom are some of your influences in photography and art?

RC: I like the dead guys: Brassai, Pierre Moliner, F. Holland Day, Julia Margaret Cameron, Otto Dix, Paul Cadmus, Egon Schiele, Tennessee Williams, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Gilles De Rais.

JW: When did you meet fellow photographer Joel-Peter Witkin?

RC: Also during 1986, I bought Joel’s first book. At the back of the book was a request: “I am looking for people with physical deformations, amputees. Quadriplegics, burn victims, persons into extreme S&M, a woman with three breasts, geeks, pinheads, a woman with severe skin disease that will pose in an evening gown, anyone bearing the wounds of Christ, Christ.”

Later that year the new annex of Book Soup on Sunset Blvd hosted the first LA photo exhibit for Joel. I attended, introduced myself and gave him a stack of photos I had taken of my potential “models.” He called me the next morning. From then I worked with Joel on 13 of his most iconic photographs as a wardrobe stylist, costume designer, location scout, model scout, casting director, photo assistant, art director, make up artist and all around assistant.


JW: When and why did you decide to open The Antebellum Gallery?

RC: Antebellum officially opened on November 11th, 2005. I acquired the space in July of that year, and spent 4 months preparing the space. The building previously housed a perfumery owned by my good friend Iris Parker. She was about to give it to a psychic & Tarot reader, but I convinced her to pass it on to me. The building has a rich history as do all buildings in Hollywood. Built in 1924 by the uncle of Los Angeles Times film critic Kevin Thomas, (I know this because he told me) during 1972 thru 1998, Red Stodolsky ran Baroque Books, an antiquarian bookshop. Red was good friends with Charles Bukowski and Henry Miller; therefore this became the central spot for literary Hollywood.

I still have the original bookcase designed by Red. The floors and walls are original, crumbling, but original. On May 1st, 2011, a plaque was placed on the left side door to honor Red’s memory. His son also gave me a small portion of Red’s ashes, permanently displayed on top the bookcase.

It was a lifelong dream for me to open an art gallery that specifically presented fetish as art, art as fetish.

I consider myself a fetish artist, and understand what fetish is and how it impacts a person’s life in a positive way. Up to now, fetish has been misunderstood, and somewhat maligned. I know I am the person to bring fetish to the mainstream and give erotic/fetish artwork the long overdue respect it deserves.

JW: Could you tell us about your work with filmmaker Bruce LaBruce?

RC: I met BLAB sometime in 1991 thru Vaginal Davis. The three of us would go to films together whenever he was in LA. We were also part of the first queerzine convention in LA around that same time. When BLAB directed Super 8 ½ he asked me to film Vaginal Davis fucking him with a black rubber strap on. I dressed Vaginal as a prison matron.

This was the first film footage I’d ever shot. I had been photographing male hustlers on Santa Monica Blvd for approx 3 years. During this time I would also conduct VHS video interviews with the guys. I showed this raw footage to BLAB and told him about my idea to do a short doco about Santa Monica Blvd street hustlers called HUSTLER WHITE. This phrase is based on the preference to white jeans. Car headlights illuminate the jeans; also the white color shows off baskets well.

BLAB loved the footage and suggested we turn it into a feature-length film as co-directors & writers. I was also the on-set photographer, costume designer, location scout and line producer… I also have a small cameo as the porn cameraman in the porn shoot scene. The rest as they say is his-story.

JW: You directed a documentary could you tell us about this?

RC: I published a zine from 1991 thru 1996 called THE BONDAGE BOOK. I would publish obscure artists from all over the world… The kinkier, the better.

There was an artist from the south of France who would send me these incredible drawings of wolves & dogs like I’d never seen before.. The style was Hanna Barbara gone wild on acid & XXX. They were amazing. During 1998 I met “MR. DAKE” in person and he invited me to a conFURence at a generic hotel in Buena Park CA. Upon entering the world of furries I realized that life always has something new to offer even the most jaded soul. I filmed and interviewed the furry community for the next 3 years. Once again I showed the raw footage to World of Wonder and they agreed to finance the filming. We were eventually able to sell the program to MTV. Airing Jan 1st, 2002, PLUSHIES & FURRIES scored #2 in the ratings and had rotation airplay for the next 6 months. I know I’m responsible for bringing furry culture to the mainstream and presenting another form of sexual self-identification.

JW: Your art is collected by The Kinsey Institute-could you tell us about this?

RC: A few years after the release of my first book, CASTRO (1991), I received a letter from the Kinsey Institute requesting my books and photos for their archives. At the time I was stunned because I didn’t know the Kinsey Institute still existed. I’m not sure how they knew about my photography. Perhaps it was thru Kenneth Anger. Since 1994ish the Alfred Kinsey Institute has been collecting and archiving my photography, books, films, DVDs and zines. I was part of a group exhibition hosted on the institute campus featuring an array of historic erotic artists.

Kinsey archivist ~Catherine Johnson wrote a forward for my second book, 13 YEARS OF BONDAGE, (2004). BTW, Joel~Peter Witkin wrote the forward to my first book~ CASTRO, (1991).

JW: You photographed the Dalai Lama and filmmaker Kenneth Anger. What were those experiences like?

RC: Polar opposites to say the least… I met Kenneth Anger at a lecture he was giving at Torrey Pines, CA. Initially we seemed to hit it off. Kenneth seemed as fascinated in me as I was with him. He praised my zines & photography. He’d send me letters & presents on a regular basis. Signed first editions books. Handwritten letters… Then the correspondence started to get darker… Kenneth sent me the obituary of legendary film director Donald Camel who had committed suicide by shooting himself in the lower lobe of his brain; so he could watch himself die, (Donald had a small part in Kenneth’s film Lucifer Rising). On the cut out obituary Kenneth wrote with pen “this could be you.”

I’ll spare you all the gory details.. In a nutshell Kenneth apologized to me approx 4 years later and invited me to his Palms Springs retreat. He was living at the run down estate of Al Jolson. Picture Grey Gardens in the desert. Kenneth asked me what I wanted to do while I was in P.S. I hesitated to speak and he chastised me, “Rick Castro you will never get anything in this world if you don’t say what you want.”

“Ok, I quickly replied, I want to photograph you nude.”

These photos are in my vault.

Believe it or not I have a tea master. His name is TROLLYBUS. During summer of 2000 I had the privilege of being commissioned by curator Wayne Baerwaldt to photograph the WORLD TEA PARTY, in conjunction with the WORLD MUSIC FESTIVAL. Trolley of course was the tea master of ceremonies. We attended all the World Music events in Los Angeles for duration of 2 weeks. The climax of the festival was an International music performance attended by the Dalai Lama. We were invited to serve him tea and I was asked to photograph him. It was a very intimidating experience for me as I was photographing the Dalai Lama sipping tea while 10,000 people watched me. He was the warmest most sincere person I have ever met. He radiates kindness.

JW: Has anyone ever complained about the artwork at the Antebellum? Or do most people expect to see sometimes shocking artworks?

RC: Antebellum is located in Hollywood. Anything goes in Hollywood… No one has complained per se, because who are they going to complain to? I believe indecency laws are based on community standards; so Hollywood standards are very liberal.

I do get a stray “tourist” every now and again. You can always spot the tourist (I’m taking about American tourists, Euro tourists love Antebellum) because they’re overweight, wear Bermuda shorts with a camera dangling from their necks, and they ask the same three mundane questions:

“Are all these paintings yours?” (even if the “paintings are actually photographs).

“Do you only present artworks about _____________________” (Fill in the blank. Whatever exhibit is up, they will believe that is all I show).

“Do you know the lord Jesus Christ?”

JW: Do you try to provoke a reaction in viewers of your art?

RC: My personal taste: art should have an edge. Something that will make you think about an idea you’re not used to thinking about. I’m not one for landscapes, flowers, nature and abstract types of art. They are already millions of galleries presenting this kind of art. We don’t need anymore Thomas Kinkades.


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