Dominatrixes in Portraits by Max Eicke
German photographer. Lives and works in London and Berlin. Studied photography in the Hochschule München. Max’s works and photo books was showcased at the festivals in England, Ireland, Norway, Turkey, and Germany. Published his work in VICE, GUP magazine, c’t Fotografie, Stern, and other media outlets.
— Dominas (2015) documents the stories of individuals working as professional dominatrixes in Germany. Consisting of three homogeneous parts, this body of work brings together large scale portraits of 24 women working professionally in the BDSM industry. It combines these images with a selection of statements excerpted from interviews with these women as conducted by the artist, alongside imagery from a Google search using the keyword ‘domina’. Pairing the personal experience and appearance of these women with iconography mass-produced by and for the porn industry examines the mechanisms of perception in the digital age.
Open to a variety of interpretations, Dominas can be read as a multidimensional collage, as a visual study on both sadomasochistic aesthetics and the conventions of presentation and representation, and as a reflection on the triangulation among power structures, social critique, and the questioning of existing values and hierarchies.
It was indeed challenging to get access to this hidden world and to gain the trust of the women portrayed as many of them are still living ‘double lives’ and hiding their real job fearing social exclusion and outlawing. As most of the women working in this field tend to stay anonymous it was really about being empathetic and showing an honest interest in their stories. My research was pretty much online but after I had met the first women in real life it became way easier as I got more and more personal contacts which always helps a lot.
The women portrayed are of different ethnicities and come from a wide variety of cultural backgrounds. They often live in the present and think little of their long-term futures. Most are single, but some have relationships. Some are poised, whereas others appear very vulnerable. Many operate honestly and autonomously, although some remain in the sex industry for lack of an alternative. Amongst the women I met there was a medical student who wanted to live out her sexual desires, then there was an elderly lady who worked as a consultant and was just doing the dominatrix job one day a week, and also a woman in her thirties working as a dominatrix full-time who told me: “This is the first job in which I don’t sell myself.”
So, there is really a wide variety of backgrounds and I felt the only thing they had in common was some kind of intense knowledge of human nature through their job. I made friends with a couple of them and we’re still in contact regularly which was an enlightening experience for me: to make friends with people I first was very skeptical and distanced towards.
Leaving my comfort zone and connecting with so many women, just listening to their stories and experiences was really thrilling and showed me how enriching it can be to widen your horizon by opening your ears and eyes to something new to you, whether it’s the story of a dominatrix or a broker. The most important thing I learned developing this project was how life-enhancing it can be to listen to people you thought you would never speak to.
Once I met up with a dominatrix in her dungeon to talk about the project and she told her ‘slave’ to bring me a coke, which confused me a lot. A bit later she asked her ‘slave’, who only wore a loincloth to join our conversation and it turned out he was an art historian adding quite interesting thoughts to our discussion. Situations like that really changed my mind, there is very little I find irritating anymore and for me it’s really about the people and not their masks or roles.
Once I read an autobiography by a young woman who started to work as a dominatrix during her literature studies. This book was really contradictory to me and I got interested in this parallel world. Researching this theme I only found freak-show-like pseudo-documentaries and lurid articles. That was the starting point of the idea to approach this topic in a more observing, documentary, and humane way. Looking at our society through the eyes of sex-workers in the BDSM and fetish community became interesting to me as I believe that it says a lot about the condition of our society and how we deal with sexuality. In my eyes this statement of one of the dominatrixes sums it up quite perfectly: “Strength means being able to stand up and say, I am not a stereotype. I am myself. And this is actually something that I wish for everyone.”