“The next time you watch a Lady Gaga video, remember where it started,” is how Jerry Vile, the Dirty Show founder, describes the influence of famed photographer Rick Castro. As an artist who spent decades exploring the fetish and fringes of sex culture, Castro – famous for doing wardrobe styling for Annie Leibovitz and Herb Ritts before going “underground” in the mid ’80s – has been on Vile’s must-nab-now list forever.
“We have been trying to land Rick Castro for years – just his work,” Vile says. “And to get him and his work makes it worth the wait. Castro is a legend, one of the most influential and important photographers there is. He pioneered fetish. The Dirty Show wouldn’t be the same.”
Recently, Castro spoke to BTL about his Dirty pieces, giving up hustlers and the evolution of erotic art.
What kind of reaction do you want to elicit from admirers of the work that’s in this show?
I have no preconceived expectations; any kind of reaction would be great. And if viewers are so moved to purchase the photos, that’s always a plus.
How have people’s views of erotic art evolved since you began your career in it?
I hope it’s becoming more accepting. I think it is. When I first presented my photos to the public, the response was hostile. I was too erotic for the art world and too arty for the erotic world. The lines have blurred a great deal since then. I think fetish is actually mainstream now; gay is most definitely mainstream.
I remember when I was in New York City back in the late ’80s a friend of a friend hooked me up with editor Annie Flanders, the founder of Details magazine. She viewed my portfolio in complete silence, closed it and said to her secretary, “Must I be subjected to this?”
Ten years later, Flaunt magazine contacted me and asked me to photograph Dior men.
What about hustlers intrigued you enough to pursue them as a career muse?
I liked how they brazenly promoted themselves as sex objects during mid-day commutes, but if you weren’t hip to it, you would have no idea. I also found hustlers to be better models than mainstream models from agencies. They would do anything.
I saw street hustling as the last American frontier. A young man with no means could come to Hollywood and sell the only thing he had: his body. Keep in mind this was then; I have no interest in photographing hustlers now. The scene is over. The end of an era.
When you look back at your older work, what’s different about that work – either historically or artistically – compared to what you’re doing currently?
I do want to emphasize the historical context. I specifically chose this collection to show fetish has an artistic history and how much times have indeed changed. The work has a very stationary, claustrophobic feel to it – like a dark dream, but it’s real. Currently my work is sweeter, and in color.
“Hustler White” will screen at 6 p.m. Feb. 12 at the Burton Theatre in Detroit, which you’ll attend. It’s been 15 years since the film was released. How do people respond to it differently now than they did when it was first released? And how do you see the film now?
I’m very proud of “Hustler White.” It has dated well. I love the look of the film and the way Hollywood looked back then. It is definitely a period piece. It will become a classic. In the future I think it will be recognized as an American work of art. It was already declared a work of art by the French minister of culture, Jack Lang, way back in 1998. The film was listed in the Los Angeles Times’ 100 Best Independent Films of All Time, and is now archived at UCLA’s Legacy Project. It is also archived at the Alfred Kinsey Institute of Sexuality.
What do you remember most about the shoot?
That I did a lot of work in a very short amount of time. It was a very concentrated 10 days.
Would you do another movie?
If someone finances it, sure. I did direct a documentary in 2001 called “Plushies & Furries.” It aired on MTV and scored No. 2 in the ratings.
I was surprised to read that you run the only fetish gallery in the world. Why do you think there aren’t any more?
There will be many more soon. For now, though, Rick Castro brings fetish to the mainstream.
Photog shares dirt on Dirty Show work
Caligula’s House Party (1988)
Shot during a Mr. Drummer contest in San Francisco. All the slaves were ordered to do a unison roll-over. For me this image embodies the golden era of the leather man.
Carravaggio on Santa Monica Blvd (1989)
This is a signature piece, a portrait of a street hustler off Santa Monica Boulevard in Hollywood. He’s just waking up, or he’s high, or both. The lighting is morning sun from the window. I think it’s romantic and classic, also combined with a hard, modern reality.
The Goddess Bunny (1990)
A pre-op transsexual quadriplegic, “she” was an unusual fixture in the Hollywood scene. At the time of this shoot she was living with a friend of mine who did her hair and makeup. I purchased her lingerie at Playmates in Hollywood for $1! She was in Marilyn Manson’s “Dope Show” video, and danced for him live at the 1999 MTV Video Music Awards. She was supposed to go on tour with Marilyn, but he couldn’t deal with her high maintenance and changed his mind.
When I originally asked my amputee friend, Greg, to model nude he was taken aback and said no. He eventually changed his mind and decided it would be a challenge. I did the hair; Greg did his own makeup. At the time, he was a window dresser for the Gap; he’s now a very successful makeup artist in NYC. When he saw the finished image he burst out in tears. “What’s the matter?” I asked. “Don’t you like it?” “I don’t have an arm,” he responded. “I didn’t know it was so obvious.”
The Dirty Show
featuring Rick Castro
Bert’s Warehouse Theater
2739 Russell St., Detroit
The Dirty Show Presents: ‘Hustler White’
6 p.m. Feb. 12
Burton Theatre, Detroit