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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.

You
know, I’m a child of the ’70s and at that time I didn’t realize how
free we were. I took it for granted. I’m extremely shocked that all
these freedoms we took for granted are just being abused and taken away
right and left. I am appalled that Americans are so immature about
sexuality. I’m appalled that there is such hypocrisy about sexuality,
where you can show any kind of violence as long as you keep the bra on,
but there’s no understanding of who we are as sexual people. There’s a
kind of childlike pointing of the finger. Right here at Antebellum, we
have a civil war going on — a cultural war, a social war.

What do you love about living and working in L.A.?

I’m
completely fascinated by Hollywood lore — what’s left of it — and the
whole idea of what once was. The actual core of Los Angeles, I love —
all the original parts of Los Angeles. And I’ve traveled all over the
world, but I’m sorry, the weather in L.A. is the best.?

Antebellum
Gallery invites you to “sip tea and explore bondage art” at its Fetish
Tea Party, Saturday, May 27, at 5 p.m. The party marks the end of “The
Bondage Show,” an exhibit dedicated to the culture and practice of
erotic and spiritual bondage. 1643 N. Las Palmas Ave., Hollywood,
323-856-0667 or www.rickcastro.com.

LA Weekly