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In a medium-sized photo that hangs on the wall of Rick Castro’s fetish-art gallery, Antebellum, a male fist is deeply embedded in a male ass. From the fister’s still-visible wrist dangles a chain. Echoing the thought bouncing through my own head, Castro chuckles, “Wouldn’t that make the best jewelry ad?”
Rick Castro (“That’s my real name,” he laughs. “A lot of people think it’s an alias”) was born in Monterey Park at City of Angels Hospital in 1958. His parents still live in the East L.A. home in which his mother grew up. Having apprenticed or worked with the likes of iconic Hollywood photographers George Hurrell and Herb Ritts and such controversial figures as Joel-Peter Witkin, the largely self-taught photographer (aside from a few darkroom classes at Art Center and Santa Monica College) has built an international reputation for his stark, explicit but oddly reassuring work in which his own fetishes are explored, and for his encyclopedic knowledge of fetish subculture and its artists. His first book, Castro , a collection of his photographs, was published in 1991. His work and interviews with Santa Monica Boulevard street hustlers led to a collaboration with Bruce La Bruce on the film Hustler White , which starred Tony Ward. On a recent rainy Friday afternoon, Castro served orange tea, cookies and chocolate as he discussed the differences between porn and erotica, defined fetish, bemoaned the culture war and praised his muse — and queer icon — Tony Ward.
L.A. WEEKLY: How do you define fetish?
RICK CASTRO: I think it goes very deep into each individual’s soul. When you’re speaking about somebody’s philosophy on life or his or her moral character, or his or her opinion of who they are in the real world — academically, businesswise — that’s great. That’s who somebody is on many layers. But when you cut to the core of what somebody truly is, it usually is defined by some kind of erotic or sexual interest. Fetish is that very, very specific idea and ideal as to what resonates in that person’s soul erotically.
What’s the difference between erotica and porn, and where does fetish fit in?
Porn is kind of like Wal-Mart. Or any conglomeration that just kind of takes over and uses the lowest common denominator; [with them] it’s really more about the money shot. Erotica can be anything from tasteful nudes to high-gloss images. But I think fetish is very, very specific. Fetish goes right to each individual’s idea of themselves. Erotica is still a little bit general. I think that we’re past the era of porn. We’re definitely past the era of erotica. There has to be a new term for what’s going on right now with sexual imagery.
And what would you say is going on right now?
Well, the way I see it — and I kind of look at the big picture — so, say for example we had the sexual revolution in the ’60s and ’70s that changed things quite a bit. To me, the fetish revolution started somewhere in the ’90s with people like Fakir Musafar, Bob Flanagan and numerous other people here and abroad. It started to push the idea of what sexuality could be, you know, the darker side of sexuality. I think right now at this very moment we’re at the height of the fetish revolution and that’s being done the best through the Internet. Through the Internet you have all these people who used to be extremely fringe finding each other, finding that they have like-minded ideas.
What’s your fetish?
I’m a classic bondage enthusiast. I’m a dinosaur at this point. I say in my book that the leather man is as all-American as baseball, apple pie and Chevrolet. Bondage is classic. It’s been around since the beginning of time. I think it’s a really misunderstood part of not only human sexuality but also human interaction.
What’s the fascination with Tony Ward?
He’s my muse. That’s all there is to it. I was leafing through a copy of In Touch magazine in 1984 or ’86 and saw this layout of Anthony Borden Ward — the best porn name, first of all. And looking through the pictures, which were not very good pictures .?.?.
.?.?. But they’ve become iconic.
Oh, yeah! Completely. Because they are so naive. I just remember thinking, this guy is hot. This guy is better than this magazine . I was working with this photographer named Albert Sanchez at the time and we were shooting for Interview magazine. I showed this layout to Albert and said we have to use him in a fashion spread and Albert said yeah, call him. That was all back in, what? ’86? And I’m still photographing him. Now he’s 42 and has three kids. I’m 47. And I will photograph him till the day that he or I die. He’s my muse. He’s my boy.
Why the name Antebellum?
Well, as you know, it’s Latin for “pre–Civil War. I guess when you think of the name, you think of the South, the whole Southern belle kind of thing, Gone With the Wind . But I think it’s very appropriate for now because I really feel that we are in a pre–Civil War period. If not specifically , at least intellectually. There’s this huge conflict of how people are identifying what an American is.