Mark I Chester photo of the day
Mark I Chester studio  1229 Folsom St./SF  415-621-6294 

November 29, 2011

photo of the day 11/29/2011 photo Mark I Chester
Kissing Fire from the series Lost on a Sea of Desire, 1983

This is a photograph of Kaye Buckley in honor of her birthday. I am showing this photo instead of the photograph I wanted to show because I can't show it on FB. For many years I have taken sexual portraits. I wonder how many gay leathermen who have appreciated those sexual portraits have had any idea that I was inspired to start taking them by a woman, namely Kaye Buckley.

I met Jay, Kaye and Amber - it was always stated as a threesome and in just that order - soon after I joined the Society of Janus. We all got to know each other, we all played with each other and we all became friends. When Kaye went off to dance and work in Japan, she introduced me to her friends Cleo and Sybil and we all became friends.

One year a group of gay and lesbian photographers got together and hosted the 1st International Gay and Lesbian Photography Exhibition. One of the photographs I submitted was a photograph called "Feeling Good Fan" of a young man tied up with a series of clothespins along an extraordinarily sensitive part of his body. What makes the photograph work is not that he has a bunch of clothespins on a sensitive body part, it is that despite the clothespins, the young man is very clearly excited and turned on. And it is that balance between what hurts and what feels good that is the true power of the image. Two other photographs of mine were accepted to the exhibition, but the clothespin photo was rejected. To make matters worse, two gay men on the submission committee told me privately that the jury had split on my photo, the gay men voted for it and the lesbians voted against it with rather rude and ugly comments about the content of the image. "They" didn't want "Their" exhibition tainted by my photograph.

Many people were furious. Articles slamming the committee showed up from both Hal Fischer writing for an art paper and John Rowberry, the editor of Drummer magazine. I was interviewed by a columnist for the SF Bay Times about it and in response the committee published in the next week's paper, a photo of themselves with clothespins on their noses and their noses sticking up into the air. The obvious message was, You stink! or better, You AND your work stink! <eg>

But my friends have always had my back. Well, my true friends, anyway. Kaye was furious. Kaye had told me that she wanted to be up on the walls with all the beautiful gay men I photographed.  She wanted to make a statement by putting clothespins on her own, very sensitive body parts, corresponding directly to the young man's very sensitive body part. Her intent was clear. As a woman who was into radical sex or non-standard sexual behavior, Kaye wanted to show that intensity could be pleasure. She wanted to use herself as a symbol and a metaphor and stand up against the censorship of the jury.

So we arranged to do the shoot. When Kaye arrived, she was excited but also nervous. She was upset that when she tried to put the clothespins on in a pretty or artistic manner, it neither looked good nor felt good. I gave her what turned out to be great advice. I told her to close her eyes and to put them where they felt right and to not worry about how it looked. She did and voila! not only did they feel good, but they made a perfect little flower that Kaye could pull back with her own hands.

I must admit that as both a man and a gay man, I am very sensitive to the battle that women have had to fight to be treated with respect when represented in photographs and the media.. I knew that the image would cause controversy so I was very careful in how it was staged. I have no problem tying gay men up <eg> but I was very careful that in this photograph of Kaye, she was not tied or bound in any way. The message was clear. This was her personal, self-chosen expression and no one was forcing her to do it.

(Although despite my efforts, a year or two later I exhibited the images at the California Men's Gathering and I was accused of holding a gun on Kaye outside the frame of the image forcing her to abuse herself or maybe I had kidnapped her child and was using that to force her to create this image. The level of their paranoia was unbelievable. The non-violent men of CMG vandalized my photograph with the words "violence against women" clearly showing which one of us was actually behaving in a manner that was abusive, non-consensual and violent.)

I started taking photographs seriously when I began to document my sexuality in the late 1970s. As I moved from a focus on my sexuality and started photographing what turned others on, I tried a wide range of different kinds of styles, most often shooting in non-studio environments and allowing the developing psychodrama to drive the resulting imagery. But in this photograph of Kaye, for the first time, I placed the photo subject in front of a blank backdrop while she stood directly looking at me and the camera lens. In order to visually make this work, the image was in a landscape or horizontal format and I was able to include her image from the top of her head to mid-thigh or knees. When I saw the resulting image, something clicked. I discovered something or suddenly understood something or the right plug got plugged into the right socket. ;)

I have done many sexual portraits since and I hope that in time, the power of these portraits and what they reveal about these people and these times will get more respect than they do now. But here and now I want to acknowledge Kaye and let everyone know how important this moment in time was for me, photographically and artistically. It has also had an enormous impact on both my life and my work. Happy Birthday, Kaye!