Photographer Mark Bennett is an enigma. The expat Canadian has settled in Brighton, England and is firmly planted at the top of the fetish photographer list. Although he's one of the main fetish event photographers for Torture Garden and the Rubber Ball, he doesn't seem to give himself wholly to any one direction, including fetish and photography. One gets the impression he emerges from the shadows to capture the luscious, latex creatures of the night, and then just as suddenly, he's gone. And here, he's starting up a computer magazine, and now shooting a film, and there, indulging in his affection for absinthe. We spoke with Bennett about his ability to transmute shadows into the elixir of life.
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Sez G: First things first. How does one become an absinthe connoisseur in this day and age, and what draws you to this forbidden juice?
Mark Bennett: In the late '90s I was a regular visitor to my friends in Prague, where
I was setting up the webzine version of Black Ice. I loved the beer there. When back in the UK, I read about absinthe and had a go at making it, as I had been an avid home brewer in my college days. Unfortunately, not very unsuccessfully. Adding wormwood and the other ingredients to Pernod does not make Absinthe, even if that's essentially what it is.
Meanwhile, a friend brought some over, and from then on, I would drink Budvar in Prague and bring back Absinthe. Just when it was becoming popular in the UK and the only brand available was Hills, I placed an order for Sebor brand direct from Prague. It turned out to be much better than the window cleaner Hills, and I was offered the sole UK distributorship of that brand. Tragically, I couldn't find anyone with sufficient funds or vision to set up proper UK import and sales.
So I drink 2-3 shots of Absinthe when shooting at Torture Garden. after starting with a double espresso before going in.
Sez G: What came first for you, photography or an interest in fetish culture?
Mark Bennett: I've been doing photography since high school…though even at a young age, I was attracted to shiny things. Those old, smooth skin neoprene wetsuits for one.
Sez G: How did you come to unite the two?
Mark Bennett: There was no fetish in Montreal, and I moved here to the UK with offer of free board for a summer. I discovered Skin Two magazine real shops to buy latex in. I started helping out at Sk2 when they were still black and white, but I really didn't properly start shooting fetish material until I got my hands on a 3D camera, The Realist, from a used camera shop in Prague.
While I have a 1st degree in Editorial Portraiture and a minor in Fashion, there's only one image in my graduate folio that's latex fetish. I was doing journalism in the UK until I started to document the Torture Garden in 3D.
Sez G: You're based in Brighton now. How has the culture there influenced your art?
Mark Bennett: Not really at all in one sense, but a local leather designer, E-Garbs did drag me along to TG to shoot his fashion shows, so that got me back into photography. I had dropped photography, as my paid work was journalism and desktop publishing.
If you look back in the old Skin Two's, you'll find I've written more in it than had photos published. Two major cover features, Virtual Reality Sex and The New Flesh. Both ended up in print elsewhere - the best of Skin Two and the introduction to the book Body Probe, which I contributed two chapters to.
Sez G: You shoot a lot of great portraits at events. What kind of events do you attend?
Mark Bennett: Mainly TG in London every month or so and the Skin Two Ball weekend. Even then, I suffer from what's known as fetish fatigue. I've been known to shoot local events in Brighton - Vinylla. Since I'm not based in London, it's a bit of a hassle to shoot clubs that end at 6am up there. If I still lived in London I'd probably do more of them, or come up with some other nocturnal shooting, as I've been playing with the idea of using my medium format 3D camera to shoot reportage shots of celebrities.
Sez G: Do you consider yourself as a participant or a voyeur?
Mark Bennett: I'm definitely in voyeur mode when shooting at the clubs, though I do personally own and wear latex… it is a personal fetish of mine. I've had a latex bomber jacket in one incarnation or another for over 12 years. Libidex Raw Rubber jeans are great, and those get worn pretty often. I try not to wear all at the same time, as it draws too much attention.
"The drip factor" is also a problem with latex shirts at clubs. Not a good idea to sweat onto a digital camera.
Sez G: I first discovered your photos when seeing a great shoot you did with Apnea. How did you two hook up?
Mark Bennett: It was during the rubber ball weekend a couple years back. Rhaemare had organized some studio space before the ball, and various models and photographers showed up.
You might not realize, but live event shooting is very different than shooting models in controlled environments. I had done studio shoots in college for my degree, and the models weren't any more skilled than I was. To shoot people who had a clue was sooo much easier and virtually painless. I thought it had been me all these years, but I had been in fact working with petrified wood.
A pretty girl in some fetish PVC/latex clothes is not the same as a model. Even if she has a MySpace profile...
Sez G: Do you have any muses?
Mark Bennett: Nope. Still need one. Some fetish photographers work with their girlfriends, so that builds trust, and they both gain quickly in experience. That can also definitely be a vicious cycle if they become territorial over you shooting anyone else.
Sez G: Tell me about the fashion shoot in the Prague subway.
Mark Bennett: I had brought over a Libidex catsuit for a friend who had some modeling experience. The women over there are gorgeous, but there's absolutely no fetish. So it was just me and her running around Prague at dusk in about 10c weather in November to see what I could do.
Sez G: Your website has a great collection of the original advertising for The Realist camera. How did you come to compile this?
Mark Bennett: Ebay actually. They're all just grabs of images from sales. I have a few of them myself, but Ebay can also be used as a research tool.
Sez G: What's Black Ice magazine?
Mark Bennett: Black Ice is the magazine I created back in 1992 that launched about two months before Wired came out. We had them really worried for a few months until they realized we were working with no money.
It's essentially my interests in print, in part a reaction to shallow, vacuous tech/computer magazines that lack editorial depth. Word on the net was to ignore Wired and to get Black Ice, and I even had a fair bit of coverage in other tech magazines, which was unheard of.
Channel 4 commissioned me to do a pilot based on it for a prime time science and technology series, and then after that fiasco (they wouldn't let me do anything I wanted to do), I realized the best approach to dealing with cutting edge tech, arts and science is to fictionalize it.
At this point, the X-files was airing in the US and I had seen it. I really liked the series but they never used any of the phenomena that we were following, so that's where the 2nd pilot came from. I was given some money for test footage, and we made a full pilot with the director of Red Dwarf and a Producer from Spitting Image… so we had two people with Emmys involved. It's been collecting dust in BBC archives ever since.
Black Ice was re-launched in 2002 but had incredible distribution issues. Since we were working with minimal resources, it went into limbo again. It's always just lack of resources.
Sez G: What's next for you?
Mark Bennett: I have a pretty extensive list, and I've recently come to the conclusion that I need a group of people around me to start executing it all. I am still looking for a local, reliable model who knows what she's doing and wants to do really creative work. I keep meeting models, having a discussion with them and formatting amazing shoots…but then nothing. Like herding cats...
Black Ice was supposed to re-launch as a web magazine in the last few months, and that's been delayed by the backer. There's a short list of documentary material I've been filming on and off over the last few years. Fetish wise, I've been researching a feature for a magazine on doll fetishes that's been dragging on for some time now… which reminds me…. that's another reason I started my own magazine - to just get on and do things.
To learn more about Mark Bennett visit AlchemicalShadows.com.
Mark Bennett - by Sez G.