Despite the plethora of improvements the fashion industry has made in photography, it's yet to encompass the full spectrum of emotions invoked by the art of clothes. Horror, desire, awe. The formula goes a little something like this: Pretty model + pretty clothes = pretty picture. But depending on which magazine you flip through, you might be lucky enough to stumble upon the work of Steven Klein. And, if you dig even deeper through the master photographer's work, you've probably felt, heard, tasted, or smelled an issue of Visionaire.
For their 22nd collaboration, the photographer has teamed up with Visionaire co-founder Cecilia Dean and James Kaliardos to produce a series of printed portraits titled "FETISH," each a vignette of a sexual, twisted foot fetish tale. Contrary to most of Klein's work, the 10 images were shot on live action film. And from each clip, the photographer extracted the moments he wanted. For those who prefer to see Klein's work in action, the videos will be on view at Sotheby's from September 30th, along with a photograph titled "Killer Heels" displayed as part of their Fall Photographs auction, on October 5.
"I'm very inspired by film stills to begin with and creating them. When I have the opportunity, it sometimes works best to shoot live action and then extract a still frame from that," Klein tells Refinery29. "The technology to do that wasn't available 10 years ago, but it's available now, so I think it's a way to be able to make films and have stills all at once. When you're doing a still, you're creating the perfect picture. When you're doing live action, you're creating a story and a narrative. And I prefer creating narratives."
From a pair of red stilettos scratching the paint off the hood of a sports car, to a knifed pump piercing through an apple, and a pair of platforms walking atop the abs of a male model, the images play to opposite sides of viewers' emotions. In thematic terms, "FETISH" is the meeting of three kinks that most people (presumably, who aren't Klein, Kaliardos, or Dean) would otherwise remain discreet about: altocalciphilia (the fetish for high heels), pictophilia (the fetish for erotic pictures), and autagonistophilia (the fetish for being on camera). The result is a series of intense, pseudo-sexual scenarios in which risky stilettos illustrate erotically charged moments between a cast of male and female roles.
"Obviously the state of affairs isn't very good. But, when image making, you have to incorporate relative things that are happening in the world, whether they're dark or not. There's a difference between people who record pretty clothes on pretty models; that becomes two-dimensional," says Klein. Dean points out that Klein's imagery can be interpreted from two, sometimes three, different angles. She notes the aforementioned "Killer Heels" image, in which a pair of feminine, red stilettos are scuffing up the hood of a masculine, red sports car, that exemplifies this.
The image sparked controversy in the Visionaire office where their team was split: Is she struggling for her life? Is she being forced to do something against her will? Or did she win and is now seeking revenge? "My interpretation is that she’s taking out revenge on someone, or some guy’s shiny possession — [like] his shiny sports car — by totally ruining it," she says. "That’s a big power in Steven Klein’s photography: You can have radically different interpretations and they’re both valid. But he doesn’t tell you which one he intended."
Echoing that statement, Kaliardos, an industry legend himself, adds that the conversation between the trio came about from their shared views on the state of photography today: "Photographers are often put up against the wall to create in a very commercial way: you need an asset for social, something for the advertiser, something for the magazine, and you need to shoot this kind of designer, and they don’t like it when the girl looks like this so you have to shoot them like that, etc."
Unsurprisingly, Dean finds it ironic. "They can’t be too sexy. It can’t be too dark. But that’s a really important side of all of our personalities," she adds. "It's amusing, and a little surprising, that when we started Visionaire over 25 years ago, it was to give a platform to artists to show work that couldn’t be published in more mainstream publications. And, with this 67th issue, we’re actually dealing with the same exact situation, where Steven Klein has this incredible body of work, but it has no home."
If you're unfamiliar with the world of Visionaire, that's okay. Since its inception in 1991, each issue has only been produced in a limited run of copies, and can cost upwards of thousands of dollars. Only 200 copies of "FETISH" has been produced and costs $1,000, each a re-imagined three-piece light-tight photo box, signed by Klein himself, with the 10 original color archival photographic C-prints inside. In terms of reputation, Visionaire has lived up to its name. Neither a publication nor a book, they've sustained themselves to be void of advertisers, with a simple goal: to keep art pure, and create tangible experiences that are relentless in their pursuit of documenting and recording really, really good work.
Per Klein: "I think that the fact that they don't depend on advertisers and advertisers don't dictate what they can and cannot publish allows them to do things that nobody else would take on. In other words, for 'FETISH,' they endorsed it and published it, which is a great thing, because I don't think too many magazines would."