"The pleasure of a book like Kink is how completely it disarms knee-jerk bigotries by approaching its subjects with curiosity and candor. “The Folsom Street Fair has to do with acceptance and being nonjudgmental,” says Schatz. “Humanity has so many possibilities.” While bondage and sadomasochism can be eye-opening for the uninitiated, or the disinterested, the sense of joy and playfulness in Schatz’s images reduces the space between spectators and performers.
The photographer, who has worked for The New York Times Magazine, Vanity Fair, and The New Yorker, stumbled upon the Folsom Street Fair in the early 1990s while visiting his photo lab on 8th Street and Folsom Street in San Francisco. “There were probably half a million people, half of whom were gawkers, and half of whom were exhibitionists, and the two groups needed each other,” he says. “It was a happy, warm, rich, loving experience for everybody there.” The following year Schatz returned to the Fair with a pop-up studio, hiring students to look for subjects.
“Over the course of 25 years I missed only four or five fairs,” he says. “I photographed about 250 people during the day.” In thanks, each subject was sent a portrait, and another if they filled out and returned a questionnaire. Many of the responses are peppered throughout the book."
"Howard Schatz is one of the world’s best and most celebrated photographers, who has photographed everyone (as the saying lazily goes), published 21 stunning books, but eschewed the fame-seeking of a Dave LaChapelle or Annie Leibowitz. Kink is his 22nd, born from discovering, 25 years ago and by accident, the Folsom Street Fair in San Francisco, an ecstatic festival extolling kinkiness and bondage/sadomasochism.
This is not a small event, up to half a million people participate or attend. Almost every year since then, Schatz has gone to the Fair, set up an outdoor studio, and photographed attendees in their expressive and sexually confrontational costumes. He sent his subjects their photograph and a questionnaire, promising a second photo if they filled it out. Many did, giving Howard a starkly frank sense of who they were and who they wanted to be. In today’s gender fluid and sometimes gender and sexually confused times, these pictures and self identities particularly and unambiguously resonate. It’s a beautiful coffee table book. It’s not for kids, and it’s not for squares."
"Strikingly beautiful photos from the Fetish and Kink Community.
A new book brings a usually hidden community to the coffee table.
Photographer Howard Schatz was dropping film off in San Francisco one day about 25 years ago when he noticed something that was immediately fascinating to him — the Folsom Street Fair, an annual celebration of kink and BDSM. Wandering the barricaded section of the street were people in all states of elaborate dress (and undress). Schatz was mesmerized, and knew he wanted to dedicate a photography project to it.
"Like other onlookers, I watched, amazed," Schatz writes in a press release that accompanies his latest coffee table book, Kink, the result of years spent photographing near the Folsom Street Fair. "I am blessed (though sometimes it can be almost a curse), with an insatiable curiosity about people. In all sorts of situations, I find myself wanting to know everything."
For years, Schatz rented a space at the Fair, built an outdoor studio, and took portraits of the attendees. He sent out questionnaires after and promised more photographs to anyone who answered and sent them back. Now, the photographs and information from those questionnaires are published in a coffee table book devoted to the Folsom Street Fair and the diverse kink and fetish community. "
About 25 years ago, on the last Sunday in September, Beverly and I drove from our home in the Cow Hollow neighborhood of San Francisco to drop off some film from the previous day’s shoot at a color film lab at 8th and Folsom Streets in the commercial area south of Market Street.
At 8th Street, one block north of Faulkner Color Lab, traffic barricades blocked all cars; we parked and walked toward the lab. And as we got to Folsom Street, we saw an astonishing scene of a sort that neither of us had ever encountered before. There was what seemed to be thousands of people, many in elaborate costumes and makeup, and some totally or nearly naked in sandals. Here were men and women (though precise gender was, with some, not easy to determine) taking part in a theatrical world of countless fantasies.
We learned that the Folsom Street Fair is an annual event, held every year on the last Sunday in September, celebrating the world of kink and BDSM. As many as 500,000 people gather to see and be seen by their friends and peers, showing off, as we later learned, makeup and outfits that many had spent months creating.
There were at least as many onlookers as there were participants, the spectators and the enthusiastic revelers clearly a match made in heaven. A spirit of joy permeated the atmosphere, created by happy people, many apparent friends, content, in their chains and bridles, leather chaps, vinyl, straps and whips, to be in a place where what, in another context, might be called “outrageous,” was the norm.
Like other onlookers, I watched, amazed. I am blessed (though sometimes it can be almost a curse), with an insatiable curiosity about people. In all sorts of situations, I find myself wanting to know everything. Seeing what I saw on Folsom Street that Sunday was enough for me to commit to a serious photographic exploration.
Almost every year after that first encounter, I have rented an exhibitor’s space at the Fair, built an outdoor studio and made portraits of attendees, the more fantastic the look, the better.
A few weeks after each year’s event, I sent out the photographs along with a questionnaire. I promised that I’d send a second photograph if they filled out and returned the questionnaire. We asked them to tell us their age and occupation; we asked what the Folsom Street Fair meant to them; we asked them to discuss their relationships and their lives beyond Folsom Street. Not everyone responded to the questionnaire, and many who did asked us to use their “scene” names, or, in some cases, no name at all. The information contained in the questionnaires gives a deeper dimension to the portraits, our attempt to get beyond the very dramatic surface the participants present to the congenial world of the Fair.
I am a photographer, not an anthropologist, and my primary interest is in making images that reveal things in ways not seen before. The Folsom Street Fair assembles a demimonde at least as remarkable and irresistible (to the curious eye) as any gathering of humans, anywhere.
For me, the joy is in the journey.