One of the most welcome pieces of news to come out of the European fetish photography scene this year must surely be the return of Ronny Thiele.
Thiele, better known to many under his fetish alter ego Strip-Your–Brain, had been a hot tip of mine back in 2005 when I’d published his work in issue 51 of Skin Two magazine. He’d only been photographing for a few months at that point, but had felt sufficiently confident about his work to submit some examples in the hope that we’d consider them worth publishing — which we did.
After this, many other publishers also found his vibrant, shiny, sexy fetish pictures to their taste, and it was soon clear that Germany had got itself a new fetish photography star. Sensibly, however, Ronny did not confine himself to the fetish genre.
He successfully spread his wings both into commercial fashion photography — the holy grail for many fetish ’togs — and into stock photography, a less glamorous but, for those with the talent for it, potentially highly rewarding business. His work in the stock photography field was hugely successful and even led to him winning a Stockstar of the Year award.
He’s almost casual about his crossover from fetish into fashion. “I always loved fashion style and put it into my fetish photography,” he explains, “so it was not a problem for me to just use ‘normal’ clothes as fetish clothes.”
However, after five years of a pretty glittering career, Thiele suddenly stopped doing fetish work, dropping out of the scene in 2010. The cause of this two-year hiatus was, it transpires, a series of bad experiences with models.
“I got really pissed off with the way they work and how they are,” he explains. “At first they are sweet and nice and want to work with me. I do shoots with them and put a lot of time into the photos, then after they have the photos, they break all contact or want more and more without one word of thanks.
“They only want my name to list as a reference, and when I don't give what they want or expect — like publication in magazines or on flyers — they get pissed off and talk a lot of shit about me.”
The last straw was a model who, he claims, set about badmouthing him on the scene after he decided not to use her on a particular job in 2010. Nobody asked him for his side of the story, he claims; people just chose to believe what they had heard about him and to spread it around to others.
“This is what I really hated, and so I stopped shooting,” he says. So why did he come back? “There was a model who was not just a model for me. She was special to me and she gave me the power and trust to come back into fetish photography.”
So he’s back now, shooting fetish again and, as I write, working on plans for his next exhibition at this Whitsun’s German Fetish Fair in Berlin.
Given that, like Thiele, the GFB Weekend (of which the fair is a part) has also been away for two years — having decamped to Hamburg for 2010 and 2011 — there’s agreeable synchronicity in the photographer’s choice of comeback venue. But how does the photographer view such events these days?
“For me it was a hard decision to go to Berlin this year, but a lot of friends ask me to go there and stage what would be my first exhibition for some years. So I will go, meet friends and maybe look for some models. Maybe. I don't need the stress I had with the model before!
“In the beginning, fetish weekends were all really funny, like a huge family, and really useful for all. There was a big loyalty between photographers, models and designers. Everybody helped everybody to get better known, and I have only happy memories of those early days.
‘There was a model who was not just a model for me. She was special to me and gave me the power and trust to return to fetish photography’
“But when I look at the situation today, all has changed. A lot of designers just use the models, models use the last few good photographers left, and everybody says bad things about everybody else.
“But I try to think positively to find good and interesting new contacts and new friends, and I’ll be happy to see a lot of old friends again in Berlin.”
How does he think the wider fetish photography scene has changed since he first starting shooting in 2004?
“I haven’t been looking at the work of other photographers in the scene for the past couple of years,” he confesses. “There are a handful of good fetish photographers that I know and see, and if there is one new photographer who has the power, the talent and the will to do it, he will achieve success.
“But maybe it would be harder today, because in 2004/2005, a lot of things were better than today. Today I see more and more selfish, egotistical thinking from models, and it is hard to go along with this as a photographer, feeling that you will just be used by these models.
“I think really good fetish photography will die in the next few years, because I see more and more good photographers go, and I don’t see many good new photographers just doing fetish shoots.
“I hesitate about what to think about today’s fetish photography — I see and feel a big difference from the time I started. Today I see a lot of wannabe models who just wear fetish clothes for shoots to promote themselves, or post the photos on Facebook to get comments on how nice they are.
“And the worst thing I see today after my restart is that I miss a lot of other good fetish photographers from the past. A lot of them also stopped doing fetish shoots, but I can understand this when I look at my experience with some models.
“A lot of things have really changed and not in a positive way. I am now a photographer who is an example or role model for others and they ask me for advice. I see a lot of postings about me like ‘one of the best is back’ and a lot more. It’s nice to see this, but I'm just a guy who does what he loves.”
Is there a photographer out there today that Ronny particularly admires? Yes there is. “For me, David LaChappelle is one of the best. I love his work.”
And what positive qualities does Mr Thiele look for in models?
“I don't look for any special qualities. But for me it is important that the model loves her own fetish — loves latex and heels. This is important for the results of a shoot. For a shoot with a model I don't want to push her into a role she doesn't like or has no identification with.
“I’ve worked with a lot of great models like Claudia M, Ancilla Tilia, Chiyo Nakamura and many more from all over the world. If there is one person I would like to shoot with... I love the extreme style of Lady Gaga. I think she would be a completely new experience for me even after all the shoots I’ve done.”
Ronny launched his own fetish label Glamcore Latex Design in 2010, followed in 2011 with a Glamcore fashion label. But there is not as much evidence of current activity by these labels as you might expect.
While it’s possible to find images of his Glamcore latex designs in his various Facebook albums (and indeed in our gallery on the right), his Glamcore retail website was non-operational at the time of writing. Why?
“When I started the label, the idea was just to have unique pieces for my own shoots,” he says, “but the whole label and shop became too much for me.”
That happened, he explains, when he came to the conclusion that models were asking to wear and shoot with his clothes solely so they could claim on their profiles to have modelled for his label.
Consequently, he says, he’s changing a lot of things at the moment and that’s why his overall web presence is currently in a state of flux. People really love the clothes he designs and creates, he adds, and he hasn’t stopped designing. But he will focus now primarily on making unique outfits for his own photo-shoots and other projects.
“People can buy my designs, but only on request and often just as a unique piece. In future I will only do clothes for men and maybe some accessories for women.
“So I am coming back with the label, but in a really different way. I think we men also need good and nice clothes and so I will start to shoot more with men.”
Catch Ronny Thiele’s new Strip-Your-Brain exhibition at this year’s German Fetish Fair in Berlin on May 26–27.
‘People can buy my designs, but on request and often as a unique piece. In future I’ll only do men’s clothes and maybe accessories for women’