the king of fetish | rick castro

For over thirty years, Rick Castro’s reign as the ‘King of Fetish’ has been truly spectacular. He’s taken portraits of legends like Ron Athey and Gore Vidal, styled and designed costumes for David Bowie, and photographed his father for Rick Owens’ AW14 lookbook (a close friend since the ’80s). Deeply aware of how fetish is intrinsic to modern culture, his subversive style celebrates the sublime physicality of fetishes that are both ubiquitous and misunderstood in society. Inevitably, his reverence to Fetish in all its cultural forms has nurtured a cult following across fetish, fashion and Queer circles. From S&M erotica to motocross racing to the unbridled virility of older men, he challenges mundane ideas of beauty and plunges viewers into the cavernous depths of their own psyche. 

Castro’s colourful photography career originated in the mid-eighties when he was working as a stylist and fashion designer. Assisting artistic trailblazers like Herb Ritts, Annie Leibovitz and Joel-Peter Witkin, he went on to shoot his 1996 Tony Ward cult hit Hustler White alongside Bruce LaBruce. Fans were drawn to a smouldering lens that captured people at their most vulnerable and empowered. It straddled the borderland between metaphysical and carnal desire, and spotlit under-represented LGBTQ+ communities. 

On June 7th, he will treat fellow L.A. natives by appearing alongside artists Amina Cruz and Texas Isaiah for a discussion on their work at the Getty Museum. It precedes last week’s event, where he showcased at the Tom of Finland Art & Culture Festival in Berlin. Named ‘Fortune in Men’s Eyes’ (in homage to the late Sal Mineo’s play and film of the same name), the exhibition dove into an impressive portfolio of work from 1986 to 2023 from within the oppressive walls of a prison cell. Join us for an exclusive peek into Rick’s world and subversive exhibition. 

Why did you choose ‘Fortune in Men’s Eyes’ by Sal Mineo as a reference point?

I presented my exhibition Rick Castro: Fortune and Men’s Eyes – Cellblock gallery with the Tom of Finland Art & Culture Festival, Berlin at The Knast. An art collective gallery now housed in a former women’s prison built in 1905. The title is a homage to the late, great  American actor Sal Mineo, (Rebel Without a Cause, 1955, Giant, 1956, Exodus,1960, Who Killed Teddy Bear, 1965, Escape From the Planet of the Apes, 1971) who produced and starred in the 1969 play, which became a film of the same name in 1971.

The story takes place in a prison featuring four cellmates. The lead, also played by Sal Mineo, torments the newest cell member. A young Twink who he eventually sodomises live on stage with full nudity. Featuring Don Johnson, (Miami Vice, 1984) in his first role.

Are there any particular works exhibited that reflect themes in the play?

My collection of photography emphasises BDSM from 1986-2023, so there is always that element of raw, homoerotic lust and drama, but my title is specifically based on a prison venue exhibiting my gallery in a jail cell.

How did you get involved with the Tom of Finland Art & Culture Festival 2023?

I knew Tom since 1986, and had a working relationship with foundation President Durk Dehner as well. Durk was my first collector and published my first book, (Castro, 1990). I’ve been part of the TOF Art & Culture Festival since it’s inception in 1995. I also host a monthly fetish tea salon at Tom House.

What images are featured in the exhibition and is there an overall theme? If so, can you tell me more about it?

On one tabletop I presented three portfolios of my vintage matte fibre prints from 1986-2003, and archival digital prints. These are primarily bondage, fetish images with a noir-ish quality.

On the jail cell walls I featured my large scale photographs from 2019-2023. Within these images are three themes: 

  1. The Boxing Series; drawn from the controversial film Boxing Helena, (1993).
    One large black and white print of English performance artist Martin O’Brien, flanked by two vivid color images of guys “hobbled” with duct tape.

  2. Keith & Keith; two large images
    Los Angeles performance Keith Hunter shagging his golem likeness, he created from denim stuffed with cotton batting, his own semen, hair, nail clippings and blood.

  3. Rick Castro & Monsterbait: Collaborations
    Four of my photos turned into demons by photoshop artist Monsterbait. 

What draws you to the fetish underworld?

Since I can remember, I’ve always been drawn to fetish way of thinking and lifestyle. I proudly call myself a fetish artist with the awareness that fetish is a term misunderstood, yet wildly mainstream, in fact the core of human relations. I consider fetish pre-religion. When you understand indigenous culture, the emphasis is on empowering objects called “fetishes.” The empowerment is bestowed by the personal belief in spirit and fixation of that belief. I don’t see fetish as an underworld. The 21st century is all about fetish.

Naturally much of your fashion photography has a fetish edge. In your opinion, in what ways does fetish imagery enhance fashion editorials? 

Maybe without awareness fashion is based on fetish? The idea that one simply must have something at all costs. A fixation on the latest.

Is there a side to fashion that only fetish can bring?

Fashion presents fetish as an aesthetic, visual, tactile experience, without the awareness of the rich history of fetish culture.

You’ve photographed an impressive range of fetishists from Salvia to Michelle Lamy. Do you have a favourite shoot?

All my images are favourites with fond memories of the era they were created. 

Who would you like to photograph next?

My future desires would be Spanish actor Manu Rios and American actors Victor Cimino and Sarah Paulson.

Is there an aspect of fetishism that you want to capture in the future?

More hardcore presented in a mainstream way. I single-handedly want to end the American hypocritical censorship of sexuality. Specifically homoerotic representation. This is holding culture back and turning American’s into a neurotic society based in fear of our own bodies.

Are you working on anything at the moment or have an upcoming project that we should know about?

Yes, I will be featured in a slide show and lecture with Queering the Lens: Queer Photography, Getty Museum, Los Angeles on June 7th. I will debut my new book SM Boulevard: Rick Castro photos and backstories of Street Hustlers – 1986-1999, at the Book Fair during Pride West Hollywood, June, 24th. My photography & writings will be featured in Copy Machine Manifestos: Artists Who Make Zines, Brooklyn Museum, NY- November 15, 2023 thru February 15, 2024.

I also will present a solo exhibition entitled, RICK CASTRO: The Family Tree at Liberia El Insulto, Mexico City, November 20th, 2023, in addition to being part of the Tom of Finland Art & Culture Festival – London July 21-22nd.  Tom of Finland Art & Culture Festival Los Angeles, October 6-8th.

For more information on Getty and LA Pride Present: Queering the Lens featuring Rick Castro, visit their website.

photography. Rick Castro
interview. Raegan Rubin

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