As the son of an architect, Vance was always aware of the importance of design, form and colour.
And, he says, he’d like to think that he has taken something from his childhood years of appreciation for his father’s ultra-modern designs, using that sense of design in his photography. However, he admits, he never intended to become a photographer.
“Although I had taken a photography class as a kid, it was never a big part of my life, even in my college years. Becoming a student of political science, I wanted to be a reporter who exposed and righted all of the world’s wrongs. Can you blame me? I grew up with the Vietnam War and the Nixon Watergate scandal playing on my parents’ black and white television.”
On completing his university degree in political science, Vance landed a job as an editorial assistant on a news magazine. After about a year running copy around for the editors and writers, he was offered a position as a photo researcher assisting the photo editor on the international section of the magazine.
“Suddenly I found myself in love with news photography, and with access to all the cameras, film and free film processing I wanted.” The idea of capturing the “decisive moment” was implanted. “I started shooting everything I could find on weekends, mostly protests, but also some feeble attempts at art photography.”
One of those “feeble attempts” ended up being published in the magazine. “My first published photograph — and I got paid for it. I was now a professional photographer.”
Over the following years he moved around the United States working as a staff photographer for daily newspapers, finally ending up back in Washington, DC to cover national politics. But he had never really photographed any models until about five years ago when he signed up for a fashion portraiture class, taught by “a crazy rock-n-roll photographer, a man who ended up inspiring the hell out of me”.
Vance was assigned to do a nude shoot with a model for the class. It was an assignment that led him straight into the world of fetish photography.
“Vittoria Mari, a local fetish model with a pay website, volunteered to pose for my nude assignment if she could use the photos on her website — my first trade for content shoot. The class ended, but Vittoria and I became close friends and continued shooting with her for the next couple of years, honing my skills in lighting and working with models.”
‘Mosh’s posing skills were so superior to any model I had worked with to date that it literally brought tears to my eyes’ says Vance
Fast forward to 2007, when a local model named Mosh wrote to Vance asking him to do a shoot. “Her posing skills were so superior to any model I had worked with to date that it literally brought tears to my eyes,” he reveals. They did more shoots, and finally submitted her portfolio to The Fetishistas for the feature that would be her grand introduction to the world.
The rest, as they say, is history. “My work with Mosh really launched my name to the level where I could work with all those models I had always wanted to photograph,” Vance explains. You’ll see more than a few of those models in the selection of pictures we’ve chosen from his PhetishFotos.com website for our gallery on the right.
As Vance hails from a news photography background, I ask about his perceptions of the somewhat different fetish genre, now that he has been working in it for a while.
“Since it comprises such a wide variety of styles and personalities,” he responds, “I think it’s not for me to try to generalise or impose my perceptions upon it. I will say that I have met some of the smartest, most interesting and most creative people through my work in the fetish world. It's always such a treat to work with such talented people who are in it for the love of the creative process.”
Are there any fetish or erotic photographers that he particularly admires?
“There are so many I could mention, but I would have to say that Allan Amato of Venus Wept is my current favourite. He has such a unique style. I also love Fräulein Ehrhardt's bold modern style of shooting, not to mention her beautiful latex designs. And I have to mention Helmut Newton as a huge influence on my work.”
As a professional photographer, is he concerned about the technical or creative limitations of a genre driven to a large extent by amateur and semi-professional involvement?
“As with any art form,” he says, “there are going to be people who do exceptional work, and those who don’t. The great thing about working in the fetish genre is that there really aren’t any limits to how one expresses oneself. But I do have a few big gripes when it comes to fetish photography.
“The first is poor lighting. I have seen more than one ‘pro’ photographer do vertical shots of models with direct on-camera flash, leaving that horrible side shadow on the backdrop.
“The second is photographers using wrinkled bed sheets as a backdrop. It looks horrible. And it drives me insane that so many shooters don't pay attention to their backgrounds. I can't tell you how many times I have seen a model shot with a light pole sticking out of her head or some other very distracting element in the background that ruins an otherwise perfectly good photograph. If there is one thing I tell people when they ask for advice, it is to pay attention to their backgrounds.”
‘It drives me insane that so many shooters don’t pay attention to backgrounds, and will shoot a model with a light pole sticking out of her head’
The level of perfection evident in Vance’s fetish photography is sometimes associated with a high dependence on Photoshop post-production. How much does Vance try to capture what's “really there” and how much does he use Photoshop to achieve the qualities his work exhibits?
“As a news photographer, I am drawn to reality and I strive to capture what is really there. All of my locations are real, and you will not find me cutting out a model and placing her into another scene... not that there is anything wrong with that as long as it is done well.
“I do have an action set up in Photoshop that adds some contrast and colour saturation to my photographs, but I think for the most part you will find that the final image is pretty close to what comes out of the camera.”
Turning attention to his now-famous model (and who could be blamed for doing that?), I ask Vance if he can expand a little on the qualities of Mosh's posing skills that made her such a revelation as a model.
“With a background in gymnastics,” he says, “Mosh has an incredible awareness of her body, and how to move so that her every body part always seems to be in perfect position. And I could swear that her hips are double-jointed. I have never seen someone pop their body into such a pronounced ‘S’ curve, and with so little effort.”
It was just over a year ago that we ran our Mosh feature, using for our October 2007 cover that shot of her in red latex against a red background that has since become a fetish classic — even being adopted as the promo image for this year’s German Fetish Ball. So it seems fair to ask Vance what it is about latex that appeals to him as an artist.
“Hmmmm,” he ponders. “I have wondered myself why I like shooting latex so much. I will be the first to admit that I don't have a latex fetish per se. I think it comes down to a very simple answer: it's shiny, and it looks great in photos. And what looks better than a beautiful model wearing tight shiny latex?” Oh well, ask a stupid question…
Are there, I wonder, any comparisons that he cares to draw between photographing fetish and photographing politicians?
“Do you mean besides the fact that there are a lot of pervs in both worlds?” he quips, before going on to add: “The one constant in the way I approach both news and fetish photography is that I am an action photographer. Rather than pose my subjects, my primary strength is capturing moments of motion, emotion, and using the available background of the location as a very important component of my composition.
“Even at the most boring press conference, I work hard to find the right angle and the right moment to capture the essence of whatever it is that I am shooting. I don't pose my subjects when shooting news, and I do very little posing of models when shooting fetish images.”
Finally, I ask, what would be Vance’s dream shoot combination of model, fetish designer and location, and where would he like his best shot from the shoot to be published?
“Oh man,” he chuckles, “this is going to get me in trouble. Let's see if I can tiptoe through this minefield. Maybe it's best if I limit my response to people I have not had the chance to work with so far.”
And this is what he comes up with:
Model: Nola Berlin
Wardrobe: Atsuko Kudo latex
Make up/hair: Alex LaMarsh
Location: Upper levels of the Eiffel Tower
Publication: cover of Vanity Fair
And you know what? It could just happen.
‘I don't pose my subjects when shooting news, and I do very little posing of models when shooting fetish images’