EXCLUSIVE: Matt Spike on His Groundbreaking Queer Fetish Photography

Credit: Matt Spike

London-based photographer Matt Spike‘s work is amazing to look at. The way he’s able to capture his subjects, who are usually dressed (or undressed) in something fetish or kink based, goes beyond simply viewing them from a pleasure point of view where your mind also captures just how brilliant his art really is.

These are photos that come from the modern world we live in but could easily be mistaken for something that was popular in the 1970’s and onward especially when it comes to the world of leather. The moment I saw his Instagram page I was entranced with the poses, attitude and looks that each of his models demonstrated that were breathtaking, sexy and thrilling all at the same time.

Matt is our latest to be featured in instinct’s Photog Series. He chatted with us about his booming career below which includes how it began, his biggest moments across the world and what he hopes to do in his bright future. 

Credit: Matt Spike

How did you get involved in the art of photography?

You could say that photography is something I inherited from family members. Both my grandmothers were photographers, so I was used to being around cameras, and would watch one of them re-touch photos by hand, long before Photoshop. After college I did several boring full-time jobs and. buoyed by the confidence of early youth, I just grabbed my camera and went for it! I started by doing general portraiture, but it soon became clear that I could use my camera to document the fetish scene into which I was just entering, and would delve further to make images out of my own sexual fantasies.

Did you have any inspirations before getting into the industry?

I was blown away by the work of three photographers in particular before becoming one myself. British photographer Martin Parr fascinated me with his gloriously colorful and sometimes garish images – taking ordinary situations and making them look bizarre, and American icon Diane Arbus with her wonderful take on so many subjects, but most especially for me were her insights into the world of drag queens (when not performing).

The third photographer is a friend of mine, Ashley Savage, who I was spending a lot of time with at the beginning of my career. Ashley is a widely published photographer in London who specializes in documenting body modifications, flesh hook suspensions and tattooing, and regularly photographed a legendary London club night – Torture Garden. He combined escorting work with his photography, and the creativity from one feeding into the other and back again. I was also escorting at the time, and pretty much followed Ashley’s model, so I gave it my own slant. My earliest pieces are either of sexual liaisons via escorting work, my customers or other sex workers. 

Credit: Matt Spike

How would you describe your specific style?

I’m often told that people can tell one of my photographs when they see it. Even when I produce corporate photography that has appeared in the national press, and isn’t related to fetish at all, I find people can still tell it’s me that’s taken the photo. But I’m not really sure why this is. And I think I prefer that to stay in the eye of the beholder.

But generally, with fetish images, I like to produce them dark and shadowy, because that is how I see fetish encounters. I see them taking place in spaces like dungeons, or converted bedrooms, or on grubby street corners or alleyways or nightclubs. I also always see these encounters taking place in the evening. So there is usually flash, dark backdrops, and I also have a sense of the absurd, so juxtaposing the model against a post-industrial background or a concrete wall will always appeal to me.

I don’t believe in sex being too serious and am a sex positive person, but we don’t (yet) completely wear our fetish selves on our sleeves and many are often secretive about their kinks, so I think that ‘hidden’ or ’secret’ locations are important to my style and important to maintain the excitement and sense of dysfunction (whether real or role played) of the kink scene.

I was extremely inspired by the performance artist and fashion designer Leigh Bowery; it was reported that whenever he saw an art performance or exhibition, he would have certain criteria in mind. For example, he was known to ask the question “where is the poison?” as a way of questioning how immersive or rebellious or revolutionary a work was. And I apply this to my photo shoots, asking that question “where is the poison” – I ask myself that when I have produced a photo. For me there has to be something engaging in it that’s dark and thrilling, or funny or relevant in some way.

You’ve shot some pretty amazing people during your career. Do you usually search for them or do they come to you?

I’m very proud of the subjects I photographed. And I’ve been very lucky that they have found me. I’m extremely grateful for the distance that my reputation has traveled, and see this as one of the highlights of my career. I very rarely had to chase really good models. I get the impression that sometimes guys involved in adult work make their way to my studio as a kind of bucket list when they are in London. For them, London is a place where there is a lot of available porn work and nightclub performance work (in normal times of course!) and a place where there are photographers who will provide them with collaborations, and I am one of those photographers that people will come to.

I also keep my finger on the pulse, and if they don’t elect to stop by my studio, then I will reach out and make sure I see them! Thanks to this, I’ve had the thrill to meet and photograph some amazing guys. Networking helps too; the legendary club night HardOn features a sex show during the night and my friend and club promoter Suzie Kruger finds the best guys from Europe and the States. Through this connection I meet more new models. I’ve done a lot in America too – especially in New York City. The Big Apple has been very good to me. 

Credit: Matt Spike

What has been your favorite shoot to date and why?

This is a very, very difficult question to answer because I have had so many wonderful photo shoots, each with their own wonderful story to tell. But in this case I will keep it current and say that my favorite shoot was when I first met Rebecca Moore, also known as one half of the Cockdestroyers.

I saw their meme on Twitter, and I saw them catapult to cult status, and fortunately for me it wasn’t long before my editor at London gay weekly magazine QX secured her for a photo shoot. My experience with photographing women is quite limited, perhaps unnecessarily so because of my homosexuality, and working with Rebecca was from the start a complete delight and I am still working with her now. But the first photo shoot we did was an absolute sensation. It was arranged for a Saturday evening and I had recently acquired a mediaeval style bondage chair, complete with leather straps, restraints, you name it. Rebecca ended up purchasing this chair from me on the same photo shoot, and to my complete surprise wanted to hire me for a couple more photo shoots. From that point we became friends, and our collaborations got wilder and wilder.

If there was one event that you could cover what would it be?

I have attended many events throughout Europe as a judge, guest or just hired as a photographer, but the one leather event I haven’t yet been to is International Mr. Leather in Chicago. I would absolutely love to be able to capture a sense of that. Ideally I will do a Magnus Hastings and take my set with me and grab people as and when I could. Everyone who is anyone in the fetish world will be there, and it’s definitely something that I really, really want to do!

Credit: Matt Spike

Do you feel photographers are not as appreciated these days due to so much of the focus shifting to social media selfies and filters?

I don’t think that photographers are under appreciated, in fact I think this new phenomenon shows how much photographers are appreciated since the shots people do on their phones and the way they pose for them are basically imitations of a standard that photographers have been doing for a long time, and some people taking pictures on their phones compose the image well and do a good job!

But there is at the end of the day an enormous difference in the true quality of the images shot by a professional photographer versus doing them on your own phone. Photographers will always have the best lighting, produce the images with the best resolution and will have great post production skills to bring the images to a high editorial standard. And if anything, amateur photography just pushes professional photographers to find even more ways to flex their skills!

Credit: Matt Spike

It was around six or seven years ago, when reading articles in photographers’ journals about how the phone will eventually replace the single lens reflex camera, that this issue first cropped up and I was worried. But as this phenomenon has now happened we can see that a complete replacement is unlikely to ever be possible. Probably more of a case of the two existing alongside each other. In other photographic disciplines the two exist together very well. There are huge markets in professional pet photography, corporate photography and family portraiture, despite people having the capability to capture all these images on their devices. It’s to do with quality. The point of an artist is to grow and discover, and report back with these discoveries. That’s a full time job in itself. And as more and more taboos are broken, the ground for producing innovative fetish photography becomes even more exciting.

What does the future hold for you and what are you looking forward to the most in your career?

I have long wanted to take my work from the still image into video sequences, and this is something I plan to work on whilst we go through this Coronavirus hiatus. There are also many other areas I would like to explore; zines, merchandise, and of course creating my book, something I have been thinking about for a really long time! Other things on my radar include getting more into performance art, working with performance artists, and possibly putting together something of my own. There is really so much expression to get out of this subject matter I have fallen into. I’m completely addicted and have no intention of stopping any time soon.

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