With the current trend for commercialising all things ‘alt’, fetish has become a popular buzzword among hobbyists with pro-sumer digital cameras and One Model Place accounts to get women to flaunt their T&A for TFP.
Consequently, these days, it’s getting harder to find ‘fetish’ photographers who boast any real knowledge of the genre’s history and iconography. But Jeff C Fetish is undoubtedly such a man.
For those not familiar with his name, Jeff C is a Chicago native and part of a long line of fetish A-listers from the Windy City, many of whom have since left it. He is still friends with many of these people, such as photographer Steve Diet Goedde who now lives in LA, and in fact Jeff has just returned from Paris, where he, his girlfriend and Goedde all spent time together.
It may come as a surprise to discover that despite his 20-something years of active, true and earnest interest in the various facets of kink, Jeff has only been shooting fetish related photography publicly since 2004. His talents as a visual artist are employed by day in the creation of art for commercial advertising, focusing on photography, retouching and digital illustration. His evenings are spent mainly in the office working with creative directors and photographers to produce visually stunning ad campaigns.
Even with all that vanilladom, though, this man is no square. Hipsters emulate this fella — hand-rolled cig in hand, driving his satin black, four-speed, '66 Coronet (one of several classics in his garage rebuilt by him personally) and gushing over his love of Berger boots and his ultra hot girlfriend Luxxx Noir. This isn’t an act, this is Jeff C.
Asked who and what are the more important influences in his work, he declares said influences “too ambiguous to pinpoint at this time”. Then he goes on to explain, “My important influences are things I have surrounding me. Carefully ‘curated’ collections of LPs, cars, stuffed animals, 16mm films, books/publications, furniture, fashion, etc... ugh, it simply goes on and on.
“But,” he adds, “it is my environment, and those who made those things I collect, that influence me. A laundry list of specific artists or even photographers simply wouldn't cut it for an answer here. Guess you'll just have to come by and hang out.”
His studio is indeed something to be seen. The front end of it is full of Japanese candies, Victorian accessories and ephemera, toys more than half a century old, boots, first editions (and seemingly every subsequent issue) of fetish and pin-up mags, antique medical equipment and everything else bizarre under the sun. The back end of his studio is an actual factory that’s still in use. But of course!
‘Jeff’s interest in the history of fetish iconography has enabled him to amass a collection of highly sought-after items used in classic fetish photography’
Jeff’s long interest in the history of fetish iconography has enabled him to amass a collection of highly sought-after, if not priceless, items used in classic fetish photography.
“With regard to vintage fetish fashion and footwear,” he says, “probably 30 percent of my collection is what remained of the Gemini-Klein kink collection.” Through BurMel Publishing titles such as Exotique, Bizarre Life and myriad others, Gemini-Klein had family directly involved with classic American kink publishing from the 1950s onwards.
Jeff reveals that among his most prized footwear pieces are boots from Harrison Publications, John Willie and Tana Louise. The remaining 70 percent of his collection has been acquired, he says, by a combination of simple luck and “a keen and patient eye in places you'd never look or expect to find anything strange or kink related”.
The photographer admits he is always in search of more pieces, and his list of things to find confirms what a true collector’s nature he has. Among items he’s currently seeking are the original lingerie catalogue from YVA Richards, a pair of pre-WW2 Berger boots that were once part of the original Gemini-Klein collection, John Willie’s calf-high button boots, and a collection of 1920s torture bits that were auctioned off by Gemini-Klein in 1999. The list goes on and on.
Given that fetish is becoming ever more commercialised and pornified, and artists with a knowledge of real fetish history are becoming rarer, I wondered if Jeff saw himself as part of a dying breed. He responded with refreshing modesty.
“History has always been important to me throughout my collecting. Dying breed? I guess thanks to the internet, experts and authorities on one topic or another are born every minute. When I was more in the information- gathering mode, these split-second tools didn’t exist. The thrill was in the hunt, the reward was intrinsic and it took time, lots and lots of time. Today, it’s a Google-click away.
“At least the more obscure and extremely esoteric information can still only be found on a first-hand basis through direct contact from the sources themselves. I suppose in some ways I can be considered a historical enthusiast, in terms of kink subject matter. Personally, I am unsure as to the interest 'history' holds outside a very small minority of kink enthusiasts.”
The effect all this has had on his fetish photography is still in the process of determination. “My photography and images are really only in their beginning stages of evolution,” he insists. “As with many other artists, change and development are the only things that don't change.”