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

Should we run a British Fetish Film Festival in 2016?

Earlier this year we ran a British Fetish Film Festival. It was very successful but also quite a lot of work to organise.

The fetish film community in Britain is now under a lot of pressure, and many film-makers have quit or moved operations abroad. The climate for holding a film festival in 2016 might not be as hospitable.

Should we do it? Is it worth trying to maintain community and coherence in the face of censorship and legal pressure? Or is it too much work, too much risk, and is it better to continue to build community online? (And maybe go en masse to events like BoundCon and Kiel Fetish Film Festival instead?)

I’ve made a survey here: to find out what you think, and to ask what activities we should have at the festival if we do run it again.

There’s only nine questions so it won’t take too long, and it would be really useful for us to find out how much interest and support there would be for a 2016 British Fetish Film Festival.

Thank You!

Contingency Planning

So it looks like the UK has elected a Conservative government. Of the possible outcomes for freedom of expression and freedom of sexual identity in the UK, this is one of the gloomier ones. The attitude of other parties was unknown, but we KNOW the Tories brought in the December 2014 regulations and promised to expand internet censorship to non-UK websites as one of their campaign pledges.

If this had happened two years ago, Ariel and I would now be house-hunting for somewhere to live and work outside the UK. Our friends in Britain might not have been able to see our work, but maybe the rest of the free world could still enjoy our romantic BDSM fiction uncensored.

But a year ago, we found a place and fell in love with it. We have a beautiful, slightly crazy, slightly tumbledown old house which Pandora Blake says is like Narnia. We live in a friendly little town. Not sure exactly how friendly they will remain if we are majorly outed in hysterical right wing local press, but so far all visitors to the house have been entirely unfazed by what we do.

We also pulled the financial trick of moving from the very expensive South East of England to a cheaper and much more beautiful part of the country. The upside is we could afford a house which feels like a mansion to us, complete with a stone dungeon under the bedroom. It couldn’t be more perfect for us. But it sat unsold on the market for 18 months before we bought it- so even if we wanted to sell up and move out of the UK, that is not a viable proposition for us on a sensible timescale. By the time we managed to sell it, we may have had a referendum and no longer even be in the EU!

I’m the first to admit I’m no hard-headed businessman. I’m a bit of a dreamer, a scientist-turned artist, not a practical man, and I suck at salesmanship. Nevertheless, even a rubbish businessman like me managed to build Restrained Elegance up into a thriving cottage industry.

I’m proud of that. I’m not going to let it slip away without a fight.

But, pragmatically, I need to have some contingency plans in place for if we get closed down by the censor. If you want an idea of how heart-wrenching this is, all I can say is read Pandora’s post about her site being censored. She puts it into words more articulately than I can. It’s heart-breaking.

I want to be completely open and up-front about this. So although I’ve not yet taken legal advice, and the censor’s letter has not yet come thudding through the door, here are my thoughts as to what we might be able to do.

Right now, the regulations only apply to sites offering a TV-like video on demand service. In the last few days a challenge has been made to the way the UK is applying this to anyone and his dog who posts a video online.

The best case scenarios- one of the current challenges works and the EU makes the regulator behave sensibly. Or they decide we are without the scope of the regulations as RE is all hosted and run by a non-UK company.

Slightly worse but positive would be that we get regulated, but that the individual censor looking at out work agrees with us that our work is romantic fiction, and doesn’t require us to take everything down. We’d have to pay the blood money to be allowed to continue, but maybe they would apply the regulations sensibly. (We are not hopeful of this. Consider the sort of person who wants make a living stopping “ordinary” people watching other people’s art.)

If the regulations still only apply to video, we could hive off the video parts of RE. Maybe a combination of GeoIP blocking and credit card address verification would allow us to block all video to the UK, or even just videos featuring banned subjects (which we’d guess would be gags and CP, but who really knows? It is up to the censor).

If the axe falls we might have to take all the RE video offline, I guess, and slowly bring it back up as the censor allows. Previews will get massacred, I assume, but maybe the core of RE would be allowed to remain.

The worst case scenario is that the regulator gets the extra powers they want to cover ALL media (so stills as well as video) and ALL websites, regardless of where they are in the world. In that case, the only options would be to leave the UK or close the site. Obviously we really, really hope it doesn’t come to that.

The real bugger for us is that as Ariel and I both rely on fetish work for our income, our ability to pay the mortgage, pay the bills and eat would be greatly threatened if any of the more drastic scenarios come to pass.

We’re not the sort of people to sit passively and wait for the worst. Ariel is working on viral videos. We’re talking to film-makers about campaign pieces and activism to get the worst excesses of these regulations revoked. If we had more money, I guess we would be looking at a bolt-hole outside the UK as a worst-case scenario, but that’s just not a viable proposition at the moment.

Despite the Tory victory, I don’t think the majority of people in the UK really and truly support censorship. There is just still too much stigma about admitting to being an adult and having a healthy interest in erotica in general and BDSM and other fetishes in particular.

Ariel does have non-fetish-related work. Right now, I do not. I’m sorry if it seems a bit cowardly, but I’m going to have to figure out some contingency for me being able to support myself and pay my share of the mortgage. I will try not to let it impact negatively upon the sites; so far I’ve been doing a day’s work then heading off to the hills. I’m trying to practice and see if I can get sufficiently good at landscape photography to make a sideline for the business doing that. I’ve tried mainstream film and video production too but no-one seems to be making any money at that on the cottage industry level (too many people keen to do it, not enough people willing to pay to watch what they produce). At least landscape photography has some proven sales channels, although it is also famously hard to make a living at.

I’m expanding on teaching and tutorials, but how much call for that will there be if the censors get their way? Purpleport and amateur photographers might not be allowed to show bondage photography for much longer either.

Another downside of the move is that I can’t exactly walk into a reasonably-paid high tech job in this part of the world, either. That sounds self-pitying… it isn’t meant to be. I’m an optimist at heart and I’m not afraid of running a business or doing some hard work. I will find some way of making a living. I just don’t want it to negatively impact on RE, because RE is my art, my romantic life, my erotica, my fantasies, and Ariel and my shared life together.

The thing which is going to have most impact on RE is the whole gags-plus-bondage ban in the new regualtions. Although I fucking HATE it, I would be foolish to have a two year stock of gagged videos on disk if we’re suddenly not allowed to show them- that would be tens of thousands of pounds of investment in shoots which I might never be able to recoup.

So the other concrete policy decision from today’s election result is that for the moment we’ll be shooting mostly ungagged videos, unless it is a custom shoot. Custom shoot fees cover the production costs up front, so even if we end up not being able to put the video up on the site, at least I won’t have lost money on it. Maybe enough people will want gagged custom videos shot in the RE style that it won’t change the mix too much. I can already say there are going to be a few more videos with shoes and stockings and ballet slippers and other foot wear; a lot of custom video requests want something other than bare feet. I won’t let it change the character of the site, but barefoot and gagged bondage videos might be a bit thin on the ground for a while if people don’t want them as custom requests.

If and when we get censored, I will not go quietly. I will keep you informed of everything we do or are required to do, and will explain why (as I hope I have in this post).

And with that, I will leave you. I’m going to work on July’s RE updates and cheer myself up. And maybe go out and by a huge fucking cake of a million calories to eat.

Restrained Elegance, Silk Soles and Elegance Studios are your sites too. We will do our best to defend them for you, every way we can. We will fight this.


Bondage Photography Tutorial 16th May- one space left!

UPDATE: The event is now full. Wow, that didn’t take long. Please drop me a line if you’d like to go on the waiting list, or if you’d like us to arrange a tutorial for you at a later date.

We are running a bondage photography tutorial at our studio in Welshpool on Saturday 16th May.

We’ll be covering the whole process of taking bondage photos beautifully and safely, so if you’d like to learn about studio lighting, camera settings and bondage rigging, why not come along?

You’ll be learning from professional bondage photographer Hywel Phillips and bondage model and rigger Ariel Anderssen, the people behind

email to reserve your place.

Full details: Bondage Photography Tutorials Information