One Year Later...

This month, I celebrated one year since discovering the leather and kink community and its members. Like with any milestone, I was left with a lot to reflect upon.

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Family, friends, and colleagues will agree that this past year has been one of immense learning and growth, both professionally and personally. I have learned more about what motivates me and the goals I would like to achieve with my work. There has always been the drive to explore and illuminate, but now I know more about what I need to do to apply these abstract concepts to my life. I want my work to say something about the kind of person I am at heart and who and what interests me, both socially and sociologically.

I have made an immense amount of friends over the past year, and gotten to know those I now consider part of my chosen family. They have given me the confidence to both continue developing my body of work on Human Pups as well as the strength to start a few new projects.

To everyone I’ve met this year and to everyone who continues to stand by my side: thank you. 

 
 

 

 

When It Gets Personal

On Sunday, I had the pleasure of celebrating one year since being introduced to The Pups. This milestone came as just the right time, as I’ve been spending the last few weeks reflecting on my time around the greater Leather and Kink Community. This reflection revealed both a steady affection towards my friends and chosen family, but also the realization that I’ve grown dependent, in more ways than one, on this ongoing body of work.

Let’s start with the positive:

This year has been one of immense growth, both personally and professionally. I wouldn’t be the only one to say that my work has taken huge steps forward both in aesthetics and in conveying a clear (and concise) narrative. While I had produced strong images previous to my work on Human Pups, I regard this as the first cohesive body of work that is strong as individual images as well as a collection.

I have also build what can only be described as “Leather Fam,” a chosen family of leatherfolk. We’ve laughed together, we’ve cried together, and we’ve learned together. I am a better person and a better artist for having met them.  

HOWEVER

90% of the work I produce now is centered on the world of leather and kink. I have to acknowledge that this focus on such a specialized subject, as well as my own investment into the project has left me with a kind of tunnel vision. When I was reflecting, I realized that I was spending more time hanging around the people I have connected with and less time actually shooting. And since I was producing less, my mental state began to decline. I had given so much of myself personally and formed such tight bonds, that I had lost sight of my original intention which was to portray this group as a photojournalist and a portrait photographer. Initially, the bonds and friendships I built contributed to the work, whereas now they began to replace the work.

I’m not the first person to become consumed with the subject of their work, and I don’t imagine I’ll be the last. What is important now is to examine what steps I can take to re-create professional and personal distance. I don’t mean distance in that I will become distant to those I call friends, but rather a distance where I allow myself to breathe and stretch and explore new creative avenues. It’s time to take a step back and allow my sights to widen again.

I have already begun to reclaim my life (saying NO is extremely liberating), but there is still a while to go before I can feel refreshed and ready to embark on the next adventure.

Philly Pride 2017

In the eight years that I’ve lived openly as a queer woman, I had never actually been to Pride. Year after year, there was something that got in the way – summer classes, travel expenses, or no one able to go with me. This year, I was determined to go to Pride. I was no longer in college, I lived relatively near Philly’s Gayborhood, and I knew exactly with whom I would be marching and celebrating.

I am happy to report that, for my very first Pride, I marched with The Philadelphians MC and The Bike Stop, surrounded by the people I have grown to care for over the past eight months, carrying flags and singing along to the blaring music. Marching in and photographing Pride gave me a unique perspective where I was both dancing in the streets and acutely aware of the history of Pride and the rebellion that had to happen to create a space of celebration and dignity.

The first Pride was a riot. Pride was born from defiance. From a people fighting to survive, whose very existence was a protest. Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, Storme DeLarverie: these names should be etched into the minds of every Queer person, a constant reminder of where we come from.

Marsha P. Johnson

Marsha P. Johnson

Sylvia Rivera

Sylvia Rivera

Storme DeLarverie

Storme DeLarverie

There are still protests at Pride, because there is still injustice. People of Color and Transpeople remain disproportionally at risk to face homelessness, hate crimes, and police violence. Women face violence and misogyny as women-centered queer spaces continue to disappear. Bisexuals, gender non-conforming people, and non-monogamous people are met with stigma and erasure. However, the protests calling attention to these problems give me some hope for change. Because the queer community is always changing and adapting.

There is no way to capture everything I saw and felt at Philadelphia Pride 2017. However, I hope that the photographs below provide the sense of joy and fellowship I felt while marching this year. I look forward to next year’s Pride and all the adventures I’ll have in the time leading up to it.

Happy Pride.

A Post-Exhibition Reflection

I've been so blessed to have two back to back exhibitions of my work on human pups. Now that I've had (almost) two days of rest, I'm finally ready for some post-show reflection.

The past 7 months have been the most productive, fulfilling, and uplifting time in recent memory. Photographing the leather/kink community has given me clarity, a sense of purpose, and a newfound love for my craft.

I am so thankful to everyone in the leather/kink community and all the pups/dogs, but there are a few special folks I have to point out.

Dante, Ursus, and Ranger: I would not be where I am today without your continued love and guidance. Meeting you at Outfest was the best thing that has happened to me personally and professionally. I owe what this project has become and the wonderful changes in my life to you three. Our video was a major turning point in my thesis. I love you all dearly and look forward to our future adventures.

Maso: You don't get nearly enough credit for everything you do in the community. Vice was really my first experience of the leather/kink community where I had the opportunity to meet people and form relationships. I saw for the first time that kink is fun. I also realized how integrated leather and kink are with folks' lives and how much it is ingrained into their identities. Each month I look forward to Vice and seeing your wonderful face and to see what the night has in store. Your love and support motivates and inspires me to do my very best.

To all the pups and dogs: Thank you so much for supporting me and letting me into your homes and your lives. I have made so many friends and formed tight bonds, personally and professionally. You have given me confidence and brightened my days. Whenever I have the pleasure of seeing you, I feel refreshed. I love you all dearly.

Thank you to everyone who came to the exhibition and all those who were there in spirit. It was so emotional and exciting. I'm looking forward to continuing this project and seeing what wonderful things develop. There's really nothing out there quite like what I'm doing, and I'm going to try my darndest to make sure as many people see my beautiful pups and kinksters.

My main body of work moving forward will be on pups, but I'm also planning on doing small spin-off bodies of work to mix things up a little. I know I want to learn more about kittens and ponies, especially differences in gender, level of sexuality and social interaction. I'm curious about furries and the history of Old Guard. So we'll see what the future has in store. Lots of little ideas to feed until they become big ideas.

Love always xoxo

What's in a Name?

There are many words I would use to describe the wonderful kinksters I have photographed and grown to care for: clever, creative, compassionate being just a few of them. Many of these folks go by chosen names that describe their personality, their lifestyle, or their journey to become who they are today. This week, I talked to a handful of kinksters about what their name means and how it came to be. Here’s a small selection of the answers I received.

Ursus/BurrPup Ursus

Human Pup, Furry

“I came up with Ursus* initially as a name for my bear fursona,** having been around the gay bear community for a while. One of the tattoos I got before I found furry and pup had it written as part of the design. Naturally it fit my bear self: huggable, friendly, and intensely protective of my loved ones. When I entered the pup play scene, I didn’t want to have another name. This one fit perfectly enough, so I stuck with it. Hence BurrPup Ursus. Bear and pup.”

Dozer

Human Pup, Furry, Bear

“Before I transitioned, my fursona** name was Snowie. I still love that name, but I wanted something to reflect such a big change. I decided that Dozer was perfect to describe how I interact with the world: as a bear (my human self), a malamute (my pup self) and a lion (my furry self). I’m big, slow, and a little derpy. But also strong, steady, and will demolish anyone who hurts the people I love.”

Evo

Human Pup

“Evo is short for ‘evolution.’ I owned a Mitsubishi when I got my name, and their most performance based car is the ‘Lancer Evolution’ or ‘Evo.’ I also chose it because I’m constantly evolving."

Tig Natious

Bootblack, Ms. SouthEast LeatherFest 2016

“I got my name over fifteen years ago. ‘Tiger’ was part of my username at the time, and my best friend on the forum I frequented decided one day that ‘Tiger’ was too many letters to keep typing, so he was shortening my name to ‘Tig.’ Next think you know, everyone on there was calling my Tig. Flash forward to when I was an adult, I always used Tig online, and naturally it became my ‘scene’ name. And I loved it so much that I just started introducing myself to everyone at conventions and non-work stuff as Tig. Now, 98 percent of the people in my life only know me as Tig, and I plan on legally changing it one day. Another friend came up with Tig Natious. Tig Natious is a play off of both Saint Ignatius and ‘tenacious.’”

Rex Shephard

Human Pup, International Puppy 2017

“I’m named after a K9 German Shepherd service dog to a disabled six-year-old boy two doors down from where I lived as a young child, named after his favorite toy, a plastic dinosaur. I had the honor and privilege of watching them be partners for a decade, and they are still one of the best models of loving each other I have ever seen.”

*‘ursus’ is ‘bear’ in Latin

**fursona – a portmanteau of “furry” and “persona,” referring to a furry character/persona/alter ego assumed by a person in the furry fandom

Frequently Asked Questions: Kink

For the past seven months I have been photographing the leather and kink/fetish community. During this time, I found a handful of questions kept popping up regarding my work and the people I am photographing. The more time I spent around kinksters, the more I learned about them as individuals and as collectives. One thing that has remained consistent across the community is their enthusiasm for spreading awareness and educating others on kink and fetish. Below is a selection of the many questions I have faced over the past seven months. I hope that these answers provide a basis for understanding kink as well as provide an introduction for my work on human pups. 

What are human pups?

     At their core, human pups are people who tap into an inner puppy or dog and animal-esque personality and behavior. For many, accessing this inner puppy provides escape from the stress and responsibilities of human life and allows for complex emotions to be simplified and resolved. 

Human pups have a lot in common with canine puppies. They enjoy belly rubs, treats, playing with squeaky toys, hugs, and (fortunately for me) having their picture taken. How I interact with pups is similar to how people generally act around canine puppies and small children. The reaction pups have to getting a treat (eyes widen, excited vocalisation, paws up) is generally the same reaction canine pups, just manifested in the body of a human. 

Most pups have a pup name that they go by when accessing this facet of their identity. The name can provide an element of personal comfort and protection from the outside world as well as contribute to the development of the inner pup. 

Do human pups have sex with dogs?

     No. Pup play (and all other forms of pet play including kitten and pony) do NOT involve bestiality or abuse of animals in any form. 

Is there sex involved?

     There are many elements that contribute to a human pup: sexuality, lifestyle, headspace, equipment. For some, sexual activity is part of how they interact with others as pups. For some, there is no sexual activity present and it is only about playing and escaping human responsibility. Like with any kink, the level of sexuality involved varies from person to person. 

     More often than not, I've found that pups look for the escape that comes with developing another facet of their identity. Pups also display the unconditional affection characteristic of canine puppies, and receiving love from others elevates their mood and helps build fellowship. 

Do human pups have dogs?

     Yes! Many human pups have pets, of all varieties, just as many people have pets. 

Are there women/female pups?

     Absolutely! Most of the pups I have met are men or masculine non-binary people. However, pup play is by no means only a men's kink. Women pups exist in great number, but at a lower percentage than men. Women who are involved in a form of pet play tend to gravitate towards kitten play or pony play. 

What is the difference between a furry and a pup?

     Furry fandom puts more focus on anthropomorphic animals and assigning depictions of animals human-like personalities and behaviors. Furries construct characters which are a blend of animal aesthetic and human behavior. There are elements of identity, but a lot of emphasis is placed on the suits furries build and the characters they represent.

My friend R, who is both a furry and a pup explained it to be this way: pup is the animalization of humans and furry is the humanization of animals.