The other day I sat down with the creative force behind Goliath’s new book Strictly Bondage to talk about art, kink, erotica — you know, the usual things. The interview came about after Victor Lightworship graciously agreed to discuss his work at length the night we met at his book release party. However, our meeting wound up being less of a question-and-answer period and more of an easy conversation during which I heard some great stories and gained insight not only into Victor’s creative process but the basis of my attraction to his work.
We met at an L.A. coffee shop that has exactly two locations. Being unaware of this meant I showed up at the wrong one. But once we’d corrected that and snagged a table away from traffic, the conversation flowed.
I, Kinkster: So I didn’t know about you before the [book release] party at Bordello of Decadence, and honestly, my first reaction when I found out about the book was, “Oh boy. Another guy with a camera who thinks he’s a fetish photographer.” But once I saw your work, I did a George Takei, I said, “Oh my. This is worth looking at.”
Victor Lightworship: [laughs] Now did you find out about the party from Fetlife?
IK: No, Bordello is just our dungeon-away-from-home. We can go there and swing from the chandeliers — do stuff that we can’t do at our place.
VL: So you’re regulars at BoD?
IK: We try to be. Anyway, I was immediately struck by the fact that in your photos everything is so pretty. I love beautiful women and beautiful bondage.
VL: I’ll tell you this, my rope did not start off pretty.
IK: How long have you been doing this?
VL: The first time I tied a girl up was in high school for an AP art class and that went really well. I remember it was the first time I felt like “Wow, I’m really onto something.” But it wasn’t bondage; she wasn’t tied very tightly. Then I didn’t do anything for a long time.
Maybe ten years later, I met a girl at a fashion show at a little underground club. And I said, “Hey, I’ve got a crazy idea. I want to tie you up and take some pictures. I remember taking her back to my apartment. I remember telling her as I was tying her up, “Don’t ever do this. Don’t ever let a guy take you home and take off all your clothes and tie you up.”
VL: Anyway, at that time I didn’t know how to tie somebody up. I did a hogtie. My inspiration was probably the Wide World of Sports that I watched as a kid, seeing those cowboys rope the calves. My father tried, unsuccessfully, for years just to teach me a simple bowline knot. He used to be in the Navy, and he thought this was something every boy should know. But I just wasn’t inspired. Turns out I can become interested in anything you involve naked girls in.
IK: [smiling] I can imagine. So during the 10 years between tying somebody up for art class and meeting the girl at the show, were you kinky in your private life?
VL: Yes. I would have girlfriends and we would play. Rope wasn’t involved, but photography definitely was. I was in Atlanta during that time. They have a great fetish community.
IK: Oh, are you from the South?
VL: I was born in Atlanta and finally moved out here with my girlfriend in 2002.
IK: Neat. So how did you start to get better at rope bondage?
VL: I met Damon Pierce and Mykal Binds, both wonderful gentlemen. Their knowledge and skill are just unbelievable. Watching their work, I was awestruck by the beauty and the care. Seeing the interaction between the rigger and the model was something that really inspired me to learn how to do myself. So in 2011, when I got really serious about learning how to do some rope, I got in touch with Mykal. He wanted to learn more about photography and I wanted to learn more about rope. And he told me from the beginning “I am not a shibari master. I’m not kinbaku. I do my own style.” But his skill level is really high. The thing that really impresses me about him is his knowledge of anatomy and safety and circulation. I definitely got the better part of the deal.
There were also books. I went through Midori’s book on bondage and online there’s a lot of great tutorials. The Twisted Monk tutorials are really good for beginners.
IK: So origin story. The superhero known as Victor Lightworship — how did he discover his photographic powers?
VL: My father was a professional photographer before I was born. I remember seeing the large black & white prints around the house from some of his trips to Japan. I became fascinated with black & white, so when I got to high school, photography seemed a good way to share artistic vision.
I did the usual. I was the yearbook photographer. I was the guy who had always had the camera around his neck. I started out on an old dilapidated pool table in the basement. Once my father saw that I was going to stick with it, he built me a proper darkroom. I worked out of my parents’ basement all through college. I went to the Art Institute of Atlanta to learn commercial photography and I learned all the things you don’t do today like chemical processes. But I definitely got a good background.
From there I started assisting photographers. Lou Freeman was doing some work for Playboy in Atlanta. They didn’t shoot for the main magazine, but they had little periodicals that they did. From her I learned glamour lighting and lighting the form. I assisted Lou for a long time and then I kind of fell into a rut. I was just feeling very stagnant in Atlanta. My girlfriend had to move to Southern California for family reasons. I decided to drive her out out here.
IK: Interesting. What happened?
VL: I blocked out a week just so I could stay and look around. I went out to a couple galleries. The first one was the Merry Karnowski gallery, which was showing Trevor Brown. And I was just blown away that a gallery would show that kind of work. And not only were they showing edgy artwork, but there were all these red dots. The work was selling. That just doesn’t happen in Atlanta.
So I did a couple of gallery shows but that just wasn’t fruitful. People were saying, “Oh California’s very conservative you’ve got the wrong idea.” Then I got into shooting vanilla porn. Somebody called me up and said, “Hey, we’re short a guy on this set. Can you, you know, hold a boom or something?” I started off as a grip but after a while I finally got my chance to shoot. Next thing I knew I was I shooting four days a week for over two years. And it was just very vanilla and very boring. I got really burnt out.
IK: But the idea must have been percolating the whole time.
VL: What happened was a very good friend of mine said “Hey I’m dating this girl and she loves your photography.” It was Larkin Love who has since become my go-to girl. Back then she was just starting out in the adult industry. She wanted me to take her picture, so I said, “What if I put the camera on the tripod and we dress up in suits and we’ll be mauling her and grabbing her and shoving our fingers in her mouth and spreading her pussy?” I said this and figured either he’s gonna say yes or he’s gonna punch me. But he said, “Oh yeah, that’s cool let me run it by Larkin,” and she said, “Oh yeah, that sounds fantastic.”
So we got in there and we shot a set of pictures and they looked really good. It was Dec 2011 when that ran in Taboo Magazine. It was really gratifying because it was black & white and it was really, really important to me that my first magazine layout was my way, with my art direction.
But it’s always the sophomore effort that proves whether you’re really going to stick around. I got in touch with Yuki Mori on Twitter. I was doing some rigging, but at that time, I wasn’t confident in my suspensions. So I got in touch with Mykal Binds. Do you know the Yuki Mori set?
IK: Oh, the one with you looking like a Mormon with a grudge?
VL: People see the short-sleeved dress shirt and the slacks and they think either Falling Down or Mormons.
IK: I didn’t make the Falling Down connection until just this morning when I was researching and saw that portrait of you in front of L.A.
VL: [laughs] I like the word “homage” in lieu of “plagiarism,” although if I was the guy who’d done that promo I would definitely say, “Hey, that was my shot!”
IK: It looks like you’re standing on a soapbox.
VL: That’s my apple box.
IK: I like the idea of a soapbox. You’re kicking ass, and you’re going to talk about whatever you want.
VL: I finally decided that I wasn’t going to let what other people think direct what I’m doing. God bless Larry Flynt and the United States of America. I can call my editor and ask about an idea about a bottle of sake, and she can say, “Take that bottle of sake and shove it up Yuki Mori’s pussy.”
IK: And I love your sense of humor — the self-awareness in these photos. Like that golden Buddha in the background of the Yuki Mori set. When I was saw that I had to laugh, even though the pictures were red-hot.
VL: I kind of have a hard-on for organized religion because it’s really not my thing. I really wanted it to look like the Witness guys came to her door. They wrote the story differently when it ran. I would have preferred a story about two guys visiting Yuki Mori with her saying “I’m Buddhist” and them saying “Well, we’re going to show you God.”
IK: [emphatically] So would I! Let’s see, what else? How do you get and maintain a sense of trust between you and your models? Because there’s an intimacy in your photos that’s palpable. Even if the woman looks like she’s in distress, there’s a tenderness. It’s as if you understand when a certain woman needs to be a briefcase, so you tie her up and make her into a briefcase.
VL: There’s a very important aspect of my shooting. I visualize everything before I come to the set.
IK: Oh, really?
VL: Everything is in my brain. I write what I call a script, but it’s more like a shot sheet because I’m not good at thinking on the fly. Being the photographer and the lighting director and the stylist and the rigger is all-consuming. Magazine layouts take a really long time. God bless my models; they put up with so much.
A lot of the time I’m very fortunate to work with girls who are actually submissive. I can see that right away because in the opening shots there’s usually that one where we’re looking into each other’s eyes and I can see if she’s there or if she’s there. When that happens its just wonderful.
There are also girls who aren’t of that nature, but I’m always respectful and there’s always communication. Before I work with a girl, I talk to her on the phone. I say this is what’s going to happen: You’re going to be tied up, you’re going to be spanked, there are going to be nipple clamps, I’m not going to take off my clothes. We talk about this on the phone and I get a feel for where she’s at. As soon as we hang up, I type out an email and I say “Hey, it was great talking to you. When we shoot on the 26th you’re going to be naked, I’m going be touching your breasts. So hopefully from the time they come to the set, they know I’m a straight shooter.
IK: No pun intended.
VL: And I’m going to play fair with them. You wouldn’t know it today because I’ve got five coffees in me, but I’m not about small talk.
IK: Very cool. I guess that’s another aspect that draws me to your work. More than other photographers, you seem to be telling a story. I guess that comes from the pre-visualization.
That’s the thing. When I was shooting porn, they kept saying it should tell a story and I’m thinking, “The story is this girl took off her clothes and masturbated, you know?” I mean, they took me to these ridiculous houses that I hadn’t seen before. I’m not an improv artist. I can’t just pick up a prop and say this is is how it goes. That’s the difference between shooting one and ten sets in a day.
Also, I love reading erotica.
IK: [perks up] What kind?
VL: The sick erotica that I read, I don’t even want to admit to the public.
IK: I totally understand.
VL: I wonder what would happen if I just wrote up a little story and just sent it into a magazine. Sometimes I feel like “Dude, you’ve got these awesome sick stories in your head and you need to share them with the world. “ But I don’t because I’m lazy.
IK: Is that really it, you’re lazy?
VL: Well, I sit down to write and sometimes it’s two hours later and the girl’s panties aren’t even off. Because I put in so much detail. Then I figure I’ve got a good thing going. I’ll be like “Dude, why don’t you just keep taking your dirty pictures.”
IK: That’s what’s good about having a book. You have it out and your friends come over and one of them says “Oh, I know that photographer” and then you all discuss it. What are some of your influences?
VL: Nobuyoshi Araki is a huge influence of mine and also Sugiura Norio. I think Sugiura Norio’s work is sublime. My main circle, I call them the Three Wise Men are Dave Naz, Steve Diet Goedde, and Octavio Winkitiki. As soon as I landed here in Los Angeles I met the three of them. Kumi Monster invited me to Steve’s birthday party. I was brand new in town, and we didn’t know each other except from our photographs online. Those three guys have been instrumental. I would not be where I am without them.
IK: So what do you see happening in the future?
VL: I’ve got more books that I want to do. I want to do an upskirt one. I want to do petplay. I just want to be Nobuyoshi Araki. I want to have a hundred books. There are some people that say books are going away, but I’m going to keep doing what I like.
Images courtesy of Victor Lightworship lightworship.com