Back to Writing / 10-19-2004


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Vegas based photographer Justice Howard helped establish the world of fetish photography, and she continues to push the boundaries and reinvent it with her raw, edgy characters, settings and stories. She took some time to speak with us about her successes, evolution, upcoming exhibit of 400 images at the Fetish and Fantasy Halloween Ball and being a sexy woman in a male dominated field.

Sez G: You're currently based in Las Vegas. How did you end up there, and is it a candyland of creative fodder?

Justice Howard: I had been in Los Angeles for a long time and I needed a change. I picked Las Vegas due to the entertainment industry here because I wanted to do work for entertainers, which I have done a lot of, actually. Since I've been here I've shot the Blue Man Group, Siegfried & Roy, all of the Elvis impersonators and many many more. I even have my own billboards on the freeways here and lightboxes in the casinos.

Sez G: You photograph a lot of strong, powerful women to striking results. What characteristics draw you to your subjects?

Justice Howard: Yes, I never put my women in submissive poses like being tied up or ball gagged. Most of my girlfriends have been strong women, so it just stands to reason that it would come out in my photographs. For instance, my friend Mamie Van Doren is a very strong woman. Therefore, I would never put her in a submissive pose.

My models always look like they can kick your ass. They can kick the door down and then kick the ass of the person who is behind it ... ha ha.

Sez G: You did some modeling before getting seriously into photography. What aspects of that help you now behind the camera?

Justice Howard: Since I've spent some time in front of the camera, I can empathize with the girls who are now in front of my camera. I know exactly what they are feeling when they walk in front of my lens, and their body language tells me exactly what's going on with them. I do what needs to be done to make them feel comfortable instead of nervous. I might give them a prop so they have something to do with their hands, or in another case I might just give them a few minutes until they relax enough so I can get a more casual shot. Whatever that model needs, we will take care of it. Whatever it takes.

Sez G: When did you turn your camera towards fetish and the erotic? Or did you envision eroticism long before you picked up the camera?

Justice Howard: Fetish was just the first thing I chose to document when I first started shooting in Los Angeles. This was way before fetish had even taken hold in the scene; there were only 5 known fetish photographers.

No one knew what fetish was in one of my early gallery shows, and all asked me, "Why are those shoes so high," "What are those things so tight at the waists," and "Why are those women holding whips like that?" You know, very basic questions, but back then no one really knew much about it.

Shortly after that, I had been in virtually every fetish mag in the world 3 or 4 times. I'd shot all the biggest names and most beautiful people. I was even the first woman that the Tom of Finland Foundation ever let in to their Erotic Art show, and there was a lot of backlash because of it! I had 7 or 8 successful fetish shows, even one that the fire department closed down because the building was "over capacity".... it was a total mob scene with soooooooooo many people there. All kinds of people too, not just a fetish crowd. There were judges and lawyers and accountants and directors. I'd been on HBO, British Television, German television, the Playboy Channel and Japanese TV.

So, there came a time when I had really just "topped out," and there was no further up to go with fetish, the first subject I had chosen to document. Since I always need a challenge I chose to branch out in a few other areas.

Sez G: How do you think your photography has evolved since you began?

Justice Howard: When I first started I was much more impulsive. I would grab a model and just shoot without a lot of planning. Now I storyboard everything and sometimes have a pre-production meeting with the model or the client. I find that if you have "all the elements" planned tightly and together, then you will get a great shot. My work was also more raw and angry when I first started, now it's much more stylized, and much clearer than before.

Sez G: You've had great success in a field dominated by men. How do you think being a woman has helped or hurt you in erotic photography?

Justice Howard: At first, being a chick, and a good looking chick at that, was a gargantuan detriment. Since I had come straight out of modeling, a lot of people had seen my photos and known that I was attractive and very busty (naturally, not silly cones). That was the only thing they were focusing on. I would come in to see an editor and he'd stare at my tits, not even looking at my portfolio.

Then I made some minor changes in my hair color and the way I was dressing. I went back to try again and, lo and behold, their attention was now directed at THE WORK. Once that happened, the work really started to slap them in the face. There was just no discounting the fact that it was powerful.

Back then no one shot on location, but I would go to these wild locations and shoot some really raw stuff. One night we shot in a tire shop in South Central LA and that same night we went a few blocks and shot on the railroad tracks. You know, I was always out looking for very edgy locations. I would shoot in south Central LA at night, which was very dangerous to do. One night the cops thought my camera flash was a gunshot flare and they chased us down in helicopters. It was a wild time!

Sez G: What's the appeal of tattoos to you?

Justice Howard: Well you know, believe it or not, I only sat down and thought about that last month, and it took me this long to come up with an answer. And here is the answer: tattoos are a wonderful form of art. It's really just "art on the skin," and since I love art and have always loved very edgy art, it's natural that tattoos fell into those parameters. Also, my boyfriend is a tattoo artist, so I get exposed to a lot of it around him.

Sez G: You're more of a "concept artist" than just a photographer. I hear you choreographed a number for X at the Aladdin. How did you get into that and what was the experience like?

Justice Howard: YES I shot all the photos for the "X" show at the Aladdin. Those images run on monitors parallel to the show. I was asked to choreograph one of the dance numbers by the producer of that show, so I thought about it for a day or so (I get strong creative ideas very quickly).

I decided that it should be done as moving black and white photographs, so the lights would go on, the girls would hold a very dramatic pose, then the lights would go off. When the lights came back on the girls were in a different pose, a sexier pose, and all of the poses when put together told a very erotic story. My dance number got the best reviews of the entire show in all of the written reviews after opening night.

Sez G: You've shot a lot of famous people (Marilyn Manson, Dave Navarro, and Julie Strain) in addition to sexy unknown vixens. How do these experiences differ?

Justice Howard: Dave Navarro bought a bunch of images from me to decorate his new house with, so that was kinda cool. And that was how we met, when he came over to my studio to pick out some prints for his house. I had no clue who he was. He just came over in jeans with a really low slung baseball cap and said "HI, my names Dave" without much ado .He was very quiet and unassuming which is what I liked about him.

After the transactions for his house were completed, and I had finally figured out who he was, I asked him if he would like to model for me. He said "I'd be honored". I thought up some ideas directly for him, and that's how that came about. I am the only art photographer he has ever modeled for privately.

Sez G: You've got a slide presentation scheduled for this year's Fetish and Fantasy Halloween Ball in Vegas. Can you tell us a little about what you have planned? Will you be attending?

Justice Howard: Yes I'll attend this year. I don't usually attend them because I get mobbed at those things and I actually am a pretty low key, private person. This year it's going to be a huge video presentation of 400 of my best fetish photos.

I'm also working on a new show called EVIL DIVAS that looks like a series of 1950's exploitation horror posters. They are all done from some wild concepts we have thought up. The graphics make them look like old creepy horror movie posters except with real models; it's something that has never been done before. It's ripe for Halloween since it's creepy and bloody, so the promoter of the fetish show is going to blow them all up to a 4 x 6 foot size and display them as a series at the ball.

Most of the models in the photos will also be at the ball. Some of them are kinda shocking…like we have one with a chick eating & ripping raw meat! They are all on the darker side of the scale that's for sure. It took a long time to finish this project because we had to do 12 different shoots for the EVIL DIVAS project and all of them had to be different.

After EVIL DIVAS shows at the Ball on Halloween it's going to be published in Carbon 14 magazine. It will also be in the Private Gallery part of my website, and probably in some other magazines too. I was inspired to do it after watching Rob Zombie's House of 1000 Corpses. One of the costumes in EVIL DIVAS was created after the Dr. Satan character in the House of 1000 Corpses movie.

Sez G: What's next for you?

Justice Howard: I'm finishing up my first hardcover book. I've just scanned and cleaned up over 700 photos so it's a lot more work than I imagined. It will be published in Europe with an intro by Mamie Van Doren.

Some guy in Japan is making one of my photos as a statue, you know, like the Lady Death statuettes. They are only making 300 of them, so that's kinda cool.

I'm doing my first Fine Art poster and let me tell you, it was hell trying to pick just ONE IMAGE out of thousands and thousands. The poster will be for sale on my site and in Barnes & Noble (etc.) when it's done. I had a photography class of students vote on it and they finally all agreed on what image it should be.

I'm rebuilding justicehoward.com so it will have a new look very soon. Plus I'm starting a new website that will house world class artists and illustrators. The site will be called "spattergasm.com" and an Italian designer named Koan is building it.

A billionaire fine art collector bought some of my images a while back, and we have since become good friends. I went to his house last week for dinner and he had 8 ORIGINAL Sorayama paintings in his foyer. Then I went inside of his living room, and there, in very beautiful mahogany frames, were the images that he had purchased from me.

Let me tell you, to see your art framed and displayed in someone's house.....well, it just doesn't get any better than that! And sure its fun to be published in magazines and have posters and billboards and be in hardcover books but when someone has gone out of their way to purchase one of your pieces, then takes the time to get it framed up in the frame design of their choice and hang it in a very personal place to them (their home) and have it displayed where its appreciated and viewed everyday by them......well that truly is as good as it gets!



To see more of Justice Howard's work, go to justicehoward.com.

Justice Howard - by Sez G.