It’s good to wonder

You’ve probably noticed some hand-wringing about the rights and wrongs of using real-world inspiration for our BDSM stories. I’m probably a bit hyper-sensitive at the moment, as the UK authorities have placed considerable restrictions on some aspects of BDSM art. If I’m going to stand up for my work, I want to make sure I feel that I am on defensible ground, morally. Here are a few more thoughts about that.

As you’ll see from our stories, inspiration for our bondage and BDSM games can come from many places. One of those places is the real world, from events which in and of themselves were horrible.

And as you’ll also see from the “Hywel’s notes” attached to many of those stories, I often wonder whether it is OK to do that. It’s good to wonder, to cross-check ones thoughts and moral choices and make sure one continues to be happy with what one is doing, but I’m aware I’m worrying about it a lot more than usual just at the moment. I guess I want to make sure of my moral grounds in my own head in preparation for possibly having to defend our work.

I’ve just typed up a story for January which is a perfect example- an aristocratic French noble tied up by a mob led by her own servants during the revolution.

In my opinion there’s no black and white for something as messy and bloody as a revolution, but as revolutions go, the revolt against the feudal system in the late 18th Century was one of the more necessary ones. There were doubtless nice people and nasty people on both sides, bad stuff was done by people on both sides, and it would be wrong to make too light of that because real people died and that’s no laughing matter.

But equally comedy has long recognised there’s a rich vein of inspiration to be mined in the French revolution: Blackadder, Mel Brooks and the Carry On team just for starters. The French aristocracy was SO decadent that it lends itself to farce. And also to BDSM- check out the stylings of Eyes Wide Shut and the Story of O and tell me that they’re not drawing inspiration from that time.

Ariel and I are introverted and introspective by nature and we can’t help wondering about these things. Ariel has a note pinned to her board reminding her to ask “is this desirable behaviour in a human being?” We talk about this stuff a lot, especially when it comes to BDSM. Both of us were troubled by the moral implications as being kinky as teenagers, and still feel the need to wonder and cross-check that we feel OK with what we’re doing.

As always it boils down to play, to intention and to personal taste.

To play: because it is vital to bear in mind that BDSM is a consensual game, for fun, played by responsible adults. The community has evolved things like safewords to make sure that the line between play and reality can be blurred for experience during a scene but is kept there in absolutely sharp focus by the existence of the safeword to immediately snap everyone back out of the game. Many other games have a stop signal too- like a referee’s whistle.

To intention. It is possible to place so much burden on oneself for always being moral and upright that one can no longer take any pleasure from anything without feeling guilty. It’s not actually possible to be alive without causing consequences- negative or positive. (Even vegetarians have to eat, which might be a bit of a bugger for a plant killed in the process). But intention counts. Asking a married gay male couple which one is the husband and which is the wife is different if the question comes in all innocence from a child as opposed to being asked with venom by a bigot who in insisting on making life difficult for the couple in question.

To personal taste. For most kinksters this sort of thing isn’t much of an issue. It is different for us as we make a living from transforming our personal tastes into art for other people to read, watch and enjoy. If you and your partner(s) want to dress up in school uniforms in private, that’s a matter for you and only you.

It is a bit different for us because we share what we think. The inspiration for every story we feature comes from me, or from Ariel, from the model, from a member of the site or from a friend helping at the shoot- but it is personal taste laid out for the whole world potentially to see. I guess that’s why we’re a bit nervous about it sometimes. I don’t want to give uncharitable people a stick to beat us with, but even more so I don’t want to make charitable people feel like we have done something immoral or distasteful – at least not without thinking about it.

Of course, we won’t always agree. I disagree with the poster some while ago who considered a white girl in a kimono to be distasteful. I am more comfortable drawing on things which happened a long time ago for inspiration than things which happened in living memory, but I know that this is just personal taste. Viking raids were probably every bit as horrible for the victims as the events of World War Two, but I’m more comfortable making silly little stories making light of the vikings.

Anyway, I hope my frequent soul-searching on “Hywel’s notes” isn’t too annoying. I think it is good to wonder about the probity of one’s work and keep challenging oneself.

Hopefully once the period of examination by the UK authorities is over I’ll be able to concentrate more on the playing and having fun with the ideas and less with the soul-searching again! I’m looking forward to it, as if I’m honest it has had a bit of an inhibitory effect since we got the tap on the shoulder from the censors. I’m really looking forward to feeling the inspiration flow and just having fun with it all again!

Tutorial Video Requests

Hi Everyone,

We’ve just started shooting a new round of tutorial videos, drop by on the forum thread to let us know of anything you’d particularly like us to see.

How to handle stills in post production, doing the colour correction and other tweaks that give shots the final polish is a very popular suggestion. I’ve just shot one on focal length choices and will do one of depth of field and aperture choices as well soon too.

Are there tutorials you’d like to see on the bondage, rigging or modelling sides?

What about the video side? Is there any interest in a video showing how and why we do the colour grading for our films? It’s the same process as stills in some ways but the tools are rather different, would you like me to cover the basics of how I approach it in a tutorial video?

Cheers, Hywel & Ariel

One Person Art – Where Will The Action Be Next?

I have a thesis that really cool art happens when you bring together a medium in which is it possible for one person to create the thing entirely on their own, and a distribution channel which is new or at least not dominated by large companies or censorship and regulation.

I’m reading a book about the history of the personal computer revolution and I’m struck by the story of (Sierra) Online’s early adventure games for the Apple II. They were small enough that one person could construct the game on their own (or maybe one person writing the game and a second person doing the techie bits). That was the medium, simple enough for one person to hold the whole thing in their head and produce a unique and personal work without a committee.

The distribution channel was computer software on cassette tape and floppy. It was cheap enough that one person could get started, there was a sudden influx of people looking to buy games for their new Apple II, and all you needed to do was visit all your local computer shops with a box of tapes and you could be in business.

It strikes me that I’ve seen multiple waves of this throughout my lifetime. Indie and punk music, and many waves thereafter. Low budget video “nasties”. Computer software. Usenet newsgroups. Music videos. Websites. Phone Apps. EBooks. Online viral videos. I’ve probably missed a dozen more.

Each seems to have what Ariel calls its “Wild West” phase, when innovation and originality are fizzing at a furious rate and the scene is thrilling to be a part of. Genuinely new stuff gets created and shared, fast. In this early stage it is possible to build a business stratospherically high dangerously fast, almost by accident. (I know, it happened to me. Maybe not stratospheric, but I never imagined my silly little website would become a business of ANY sort).

Then there’s a period of consolidation, marketing takes over, the companies get winnowed down to a few big players and (usually) the damned government sticks its nose in to “protect the children” and censor everything, too.

And at that point the innovation and excitement moves on, replaced by polish and production values. Which is fine too- by any rational measure, Dragon Age: Inquisition is an astonishing achievement, much more so than Haunted House or SoftPorn or Zork.

But I think we lose the energy when creating something requires big money, lots of time and a group effort by hundreds or thousands of people instead of a burst of creative energy by just one or two people. There’s a meme which sums it up:


Clearly, websites are moving out of the one-person-band phase. Governments are coming in and regulating, even in niche markets like BDSM the market is dominated by a few big players, a lot of producers are giving up because it is just too much work and they can’t compete. What’s left is still pretty cool- and I’m certainly doing my best to make sure Restrained Elegance, Silk Soles and Elegance Studios stay as a cottage industry production house at least.

But what is already happening is the loss of the feeling of “scene”. Of people being brave or motivated to create their thing, and the hell with anyone else. Of watching what other people are doing and applauding it for its coolness and being competitive in a “well you think that’s good, but look at THIS” sort of spurring each other on way that scenes have. Rather than the “I see what you did there, I’m going to launch something in competition with you, market the hell out of it and see if I can drive you out of business” way that more marture markets have.

If I’m honest the British Fetish Film Festival started as a way of me trying to stimulate more of a scene for fetish film production in the UK. There were lots of us making little intensely personal films in isolation and I thought we could really get something exciting going. Lots of scenes have been jump started by community events or venues (think CBGB’s or the Homebrew computer club).

I’m not going to say it is too late, but the imposition of heavy censorship in the UK is certainly a handicap. With luck we might get spurred into action, fighting back the way that gay communities in the UK had to for clause 28.

But I also wonder… where might the next solo artist medium, new market opportunity lie? Somewhere as-yet unregulated, which people are just starting to discover?

Cheers, Hywel