Cathy and I were lovers for a few weeks, back in the early summer of 2011. We'd met through one of the more alternative online dating sites. She reached out to me first, with praise for my photography skills and an interest in the play I was writing at the time. We met twice in San Francisco before she kidnapped me away to the house she shared in Pinole, 20 miles north of Oakland. The encounter inspired an outstanding photography shoot at a lethally-dilapidated former military armory. Despite the artistic chemistry, the personal chemistry didn't work out too well. Until two days ago.
We'd stayed in touch since ending our foray as a couple. She found a guy that she loved and enjoyed, and he loved her enough to give her the freedom to be as she will. Cathy's a latent sexual dynamo, hitting the stride in her early 40s that most women hit a decade earlier. An earlier bad marriage took that time from her. Now, she's getting it back. With interest. A routine, Happy New Year text from me to her got the ball rolling this past weekend. We agreed on a date together. She left the details to me, and was careful to inform me that her new boyfriend would let her do !whatever! she wanted.
!Whatever!. I love that kind of license. A recent outing had me exploring the Embarcadero Center after dark, climbing its various staircases, traipsing the pedestrian bridges over streets below, and absorbing the sculptural and architectural elements. The public restrooms at the Center's four buildings are notorious for hosting raunchy, downtown sex breaks all day, every day. Add all those elements together, multiply by some audacity, and the potential results of a photo shoot could be staggering.
Cathy's the type who likes to dress up. She's got elegant, sexy tastes, and enjoys composing provocative ensembles that invite appreciation and test abilities. I planned to have her in 40s-style stockings and shoes, in a skirt/blouse/jacket ensemble from the same period. No hat. Her chestnut hair's got enough natural body and curls to make most women commit suicide. And she knows just how to do her makeup to complete the image. Dangerous. Willing. Able. Yes, I planned to fuck the shit out of her in front of a camera or two. Our cameras. Our images. Our lives.
“Erotic photo shoot,” she asked. “Sure. Where?” Alluring as the concept was, she demurred for a different location. She and her boyfriend, Will, were living in a tremendous Victorian house, over in a dangerous section of Oakland. “Why don't you just come over here. We can have him work the cameras after we set them up.” Sounded fine to me.
Understand something: we were not aiming for some commonplace porn shoot. Nor was this a ruse for her and me to simply get naked. There's a slim, fading line between erotica and porn, which most people have forgotten, if they ever knew it at all. Which isn't to say that Cathy and I weren't actually going to be fucking, sucking, kissing, and/or cumming. I'd never done a shoot like this before, and can't profess to have any familiar influences in the erotic photography field. That didn't worry me at all.
I grabbed a couple different outfit elements from my closet, without overthinking how they would all be used. They went into a backpack, along with my camera, buds from a newly-arrived sativa strain, a pack of Dunhill reds, a mini-tripod, and an extra battery charger. The other bag I took was full of sex toys, bondage cuffs, and two slave collars (his&hers). Those, plus my regular-size tripod fit perfectly onto the back end of my motorcycle, and I took off across the Bay Bridge without a single idea in mind for the project.
Will and Cathy's house is a time/space junture originating in 1908. Will has spent the last year renovating one room at a time, using fixtures and other elements from that same period. In addition, he's got a keen eye for decoration. Each room is a visual treasure trove, without being too busy or overcrowded. Antique chests, cabinets, and desks hinted at what awaited us in their bedroom, and I was not disappointed. A queen-size Mahogany sleigh bed occupied most of the space, and left only narrow lanes around it for our tripods and cameras. But the tech aspect wasn't what concerned me the most.
Will's a gregarious, if slightly reserved, fella in his late forties. Long-haired and well-weathered, he has the quiet intensity of deep waters on a calm morning. Our conversations were relaxed and non-frivolous, putting us both at ease pretty fast. Which helped us avoid the dependably awkward, “So, are you okay with me fucking your girlfriend in front of you while we take some raunchy, yet tasteful pics of ourselves being savagely unrestrained,” moment. In less than twenty minutes, we'd made an impossibly smooth, nuanced transition from our first contact to me selecting Cathy's stockings, underwear, and shoes.
The outfits and accessories I brought tickled her imagination. She immediately cooed about wanting to give me a blowjob while I wore the late 60s era American gas mask and black, knee-high John Fluevog boots. I responded with some thoughts about a dildo in her pussy and my lips on her clit. Mutual visions of entwined bodies and passionate kissing spontaneously emerged, as did notions for a foot worship series. Just like that, we had a four-movement outline.
By manipulating the single curtain over the window, we were able to take advantage of indirect, diffused, natural light from an overcast afternoon. I set up the mini tripod and my Cannon (sx30is) atop some books on a dresser, checked the angle, set the shutter speed, aperture, ISO, color, and timer, and hopped on the bed for a test shot. The outcome produced the standards we used as a baseline: black-n-white, low contrast, sharp focus, single shot, 2-second delay. We asked Will to be our shutter release operator on both cameras.
It's no secret that creativity and sexuality play off of each other. Watching Cathy flitter around the room in her vertically-striped auburn stockings, black bra, and black satin panties while she adjusted her Nikon's settings and felt out the light's influence more or less exemplified all the reasons why I came to California, and Northern California in particular. Moments later, we dove into the outline we'd sketched and filled in the details by improvisation. With Will taking our calls for shutter intersection, Cathy and I could fully jump through the rabbit hole and lose ourselves in each other. No acting, no pretending, no pouting for the lens. Raw. Real. Fun.
The session lasted for over two hours. Between the two cameras, we over 200 images. The final set, involving the fourth movement in the outline, as shot entirely by Will, who took Cathy's camera in hand and shot what he saw. When we three sat down and looked at what we'd achieved, we were completely blown away. Every single risk we'd taken had paid off, and so had the “happy accidents.” Composition, balance, provocation--these images would sell. Not on a fetish porn site, but as tangible, framed prints. Some of them in sets.
At San Francisco street fairs later this year. We like sex out here. A lot. It's common to find erotica like this on display in people's flats or lofts or studios. Signs of life, sans mass culture conformity surrender. It might not play out there in the 'bubs, where y'all pretend that finger vibrators and Cosmopolitan sex tips will keep either of you happy. As much as I've decried the City's loss of wildness and character over the last two years, things are changing. Those of us with the spirit and the will are taking up The Way. We see no need to compromise. We'll put ourselves on the line, if for no other reason than to show you where it is. One frame at a time.