Have you been to Darklands 2023, earlier this year? Then you may have noticed that there was a two-day photoshoot going on, a hop and a skip away from the entrance, for a project called Beyond Boundaries. We spoke to Dutch photographer Arjan Spannenburg about this exciting new project featuring a diverse cast of queer kinksters living their best fetish lives under the blue Antwerp skies.
Arjan, what is Beyond Boundaries about?
“Beyond Boundaries wants to showcase the diversity of gay and queer fetish culture. People often think of leathermen when the subject of fetish is brought up. They assume the scene is just about sex, and nothing else, but there is a lot more to it. There are people of all ages and genders involved, who are into rubber, leather, bondage, puppy play, and tons of other kinks and fetishes; sometimes they even combine them. Everything is possible, everything is allowed. We wanted to document that in a series of photos.”
And for that reason you went to Darklands 2023 in Antwerp, last March.
“Correct! I conceived and realized this project with my assistant Max Govers. Together we made a list of people and fetishes that we wanted to photograph. We thought we would be done within a day, but we soon found out that we were missing a lot of faces and fetishes. The scene is way more diverse than we had imagined, so we added the Sunday of Darklands to the full day of shooting we already completed on Saturday.”
What do we see on the photographs?
“The series consists of 72 portraits of kinksters that we met at Darklands. They are from a diverse range of cultural backgrounds, genders, with and without disabilities, but what all of them have in common is that they are part of the gay and queer fetish scene. We wanted to photograph them with the same backdrop, in the same light, in that way they would all be connected. Our models needed to feel comfortable, so they could be themselves. We didn’t direct them too much, to make sure that their personality shines through. These are pictures that they can share with their family, to show them what they are into without being sexual.”
The result looks really colorful and playful. You can feel the fun these kinksters were having when you took the photographs. Is that what you wanted to bring across with the series?
“That is what it is all about. These kinksters are proud of their fetishes and it shows.”
Where can people see the project?
“All of the photographs are on my website for free. I hope I can exhibit them during Pride Amsterdam or at a fetish event like Folsom in Berlin. Putting on an exhibition can be quite expensive. We need to find a proper location, and then there are the costs for printing the photography. If any of your readers want to support us with that, it would be greatly appreciated!”
What is your favorite photograph that you took for Beyond Boundaries and why?
“That is a difficult question to answer. What makes the photographs great is that they are a collection of portraits. The fact that it is a series gives context to the photos you see in front of you. The pictures complement each other.”
Let me rephrase the question then, I assume that as a photographer you want to show the individuality, personality and humanity of your subjects in the portraits you take, in which portrait do you think you succeeded most in doing that?
“There is a young man that I photographed who has crutches. I can imagine that when you are a young gay man with a disability, someone who is into fetish even, that society isn’t that welcoming. He was really happy to be included in the series. His enthusiasm moved me and it made me really happy at the same time. I think all of that shows in the portrait.”
It sounds like you had a fantastic time during the shoot!
“I did. What I really loved about the project was meeting all these different kinds of people and connecting with them. One of the models we shot was (gay porn star) Mister Kristofer Weston. I had no idea who he was, until Max my assistant, told me. Later, Mister Kristofer and I connected, we chatted about the project, and through that I got to know him a little bit better. Those are the things that I take with me after a shoot. That is what I love about being a photographer.”
On a sidenote, I like to listen to Watts Your Safepod, the kink podcast that Mister Kristofer hosts together with Pup Amp. They talked about your shoot and gave us some behind the scenes gossip. Mister Kristofer was wearing a leather straight-jacket; apparently he wasn’t paying too much attention, and then he almost fell off the pier into the river. Oops!
“We told our models to pay attention to their safety, but yes, he was really, really close to the edge. Luckily, nothing happened, it would have been quite a fall!”
Is there anything you would still like to share with our readers?
“I think it is amazing that so many fetish organizations are spreading the word about Beyond Boundaries. It makes our scene more visible, it helps with showing us in a positive light, but most importantly, it shows that we are a community, and that sex is just a small part of what we are about.”