EXPLORING MYTHS OF A SEXUAL SUBCULTURE
Published on February 15, 2004
© 2004- Blethen Maine Newspapers, Inc.
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Byline: BOB KEYES Staff Writer
Photographer Barbara Nitke approached the subject
of sadomasochism from the perspective of an unknowing
observer. She discovered that her assumptions about
the kinds of people who engaged in the behavior were
wrong. "I thought if you were interested in it, it had to be
because you had some traumatic childhood experience that
reshaped your love life in a certain way. That was my
theory, and it was quickly disproven," said Nitke,
who will be at Radiant Light Gallery in Portland Friday
to sign and discuss her newly published photography book,
"Kiss of Fire: A Romantic View of Sadomasochism."
exhibition of her photographs also is on display. Thomas
Adams, who runs the gallery, says the artistic merit
in Hall's work lies in her technique and composition.
She uses infrared film to create a surreal atmosphere;
the photos lack sharp focus and often seem cloudy.
Few photographers use infrared film because of its
Distinguishing the work is her
ability to capture her subjects' personalities, Adams
"As the third eye, she sort of creates a ménage à trois
between herself and the people she is photographing. She
is able to capture in a dramatic way their relationship.
The compositions are done in such a way that they are
more like paintings," he says.
"She has the typical foreground, background and middle
ground of any good work of art, but she manages to carry
the eye into the image, and the image itself has many
focal points. The viewer rarely gets bored. Her work is
very graphic, in the sense of the composition and the
tonalities, the black and whites."
Nitke's book has created a buzz in the photography
world. A decade in the making, it is among the first
mainstream publications to examine the subject, which
recently received a four-page feature spread in Time
She says her goal is to provide an insider's
view into the issues of trust, intimacy and negotiation
in this sexual subculture.
Nitke, who lives in New
York City, photographed most of the couples in her
book from 1994 to 1998. It took her a year to win the
trust of those who appear in the book and five years
to find a publisher willing to handle the subject.
"Eventually, one person let me shoot, and then someone
else. I started showing people my pictures, and people
liked them. One thing led to another," she says.
Nitke, president of the Camera Club of New York and
a faculty member of the School of Visual Arts in New
York, has explored issues of sexual relationships through
photography since 1982.
For this project, she describes
her role as a "voyeur
in the community. I don't actually practice SM, but I
feel that when I am watching people and especially
photographing them, there is a deep emotional connection
with them. I feel I am part of the SM community, and
I really do understand it."
book, published by the German press Kehrer Verlag,
attempts to break down the myths about SM - among those
in the subculture, it's always "SM" and never "S
no public money for her work. She debated applying
for a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts
in the early 1990s, but thought better of it. "I just decided it was going to be a waste of my time
to even think about writing a grant. So there has never
been any controversy there," she says.
A.D. Coleman writes in an essay in the book,
"At a time when varieties of sexual practice once
considered marginal and taboo ... have moved from the
periphery to the center, from the closet into the open,
the work of photographers like Barbara Nitke has helped
bring the discussion of these sexual alternatives into
Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or at: email@example.com
Barbara Nitke, author of "Kiss of Fire: A Romantic View
When: 5 to 8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 20
Where: Radiant Light Gallery, 142 High St., Suite 409,
Nitke will discuss her work in greater detail from
3:30 to 5 p.m. Saturday. Call 252-7258 for reservations
or information. The gallery will display her photos
through April 17.