I think there have been three major revolutions since I first launched Restrained Elegance back on 1st April 2001.
The digital camera revolution
From 35 mm slide film to Canon D30, D60, 5D, 7D, Hasselblad H3D, Sony A7RII. Panasonic camcorder to DVX100 to HVX200 to dSLR to RED, iPhone, GoPro, GH4 and A7RII. The capabilities of cameras today are like science fiction from 2000 when I first shot for the site. RE would not have been possible without: high quality, low cost, fast turnaround, and the ability to control the images as a one man band and still produce five updates a week. Fortunately there’s nothing but upside to this. You can buy a camera today for a pittance that will shoot images which were beyond the reach of professional photographers and cinematographers fifteen years ago. Enjoy it- make something for yourself! Go buy a bottom end digital camera or make a movie on your phone.
The Internet Revolution.
In 2001, the web was the wild west, and open and exciting frontier. Now it is a utility, an infrastructure as vital as electricity (and considerably more so than fixed-line telephones, which will be gone in a generation).
This transformation hasn’t been the unreserved good thing that the digital camera revolution has, but the promise of the internet is still there. The information available on a smart phone in your pocket wandering around town is STAGGERING.
We’re just not sure how to handle it as a species. How to balance the positive side of individuals and small communities getting their voice online with the fact that abhorrent people will do likewise to further their ghastly aims and objectives too. How much surveillance can we live with? How much control are we willing to outsource to multi-nationals? How much access should the state to have us, and all our personal data, communications and meta-data? There’s not an obvious right answer. I hope I am open-minded enough to accept that my own left-wing but very libertarian views may not be the best compromise for the human race- although I do note that every time human beings come out the other side of authoritarian regimes, they try to bake the rights of the individual against the state and the powerful into law. Which suggests we’d better watch it when the authoritarians suddenly get HUGE amounts of data and personal insight into all of us.
The Fundamentalist Fight-Back
The third revolution is most emphatically not a good thing. It’s the fight-back of the fundamentalists and traditionalists, especially when it comes to sexual matters. In 2001 when I launched Restrained Elegance it was a matter of quirky interest, at least in the liberal, middle-class, college-educated bubble I live in. Even the most reactionary right-wing press treated sexual matters as something of a joke back then. Right up until the point they decided to savage some poor public person for daring to have an ACTUAL sex life, rather than a Carry On Film slap and tickle, anyway.
Somehow, the Mary Whitehouse tendency got armed up and organised and pushed and pushed their agenda and used every scare tactic in the book until the whole idea of “sexual freedom of the individual” sounds a bit scary to modern ears. “Sexual freedom” oh doesn’t that mean
paedophiles and priests and celebrities and freaks and weirdos that AREN’T PEOPLE THEY ARE MONSTERS.
I profoundly hope that my analysis which follows will prove to be correct: I think the war is won. Generations have grown up with the internet and have seen EVERYTHING that has entered their heads to go looking. I doubt government will manage to put that genie back in the bottle, even if they go full Big Brother. My hope is that the kinky community are in the position now that the gay community were in back in the 1980’s. Under
attack from the conservatives, but an attack born of desperation, trying to turn back a tide that already turned.
Our niece is a film student. She knows what we do. She came to help out as an intern in her gap year. A few weeks ago she brought
her student film-maker team to make a mini-documentary about us. The film is excellent even though I say so myself (we hope to be able to
share it with you soon).
But the main thing I took away from the experience was how utterly unfazed a bunch of nineteen year olds were sitting in on a custom video shoot where I tied up Ariel and gagged her with a ball-gag over a pair of pantyhose over her head. How unfazed the removal men who moved us to our lovely weird house in Wales packing up the whips and chains and gags. How little the stocks on the landing bothered the alarm service guys who came to fix our burglar alarm last week. They find it funny, because it IS funny- a fun game we play. And that’s all. It isn’t a threat to our children or our pure Christian Aryan heritage.
There is a cultural war going on and victory isn’t certain. As Myles Jackman pointed out, one might say the same thing about the chemical generations. Most reasonably chilled out streetwise people from the sixties onwards know that not all illegal drugs are the same. The traditional mild forms of cannabis in particular may have some harm for vulnerable people but seem to be a damn site less harmful than other legal intoxicants, and have a clinically proven efficacy against some pretty shitty conditions. And yet the chemical generations have not managed to get it legalised. Indeed, the fear-and-flogging branch of our current government have already legislated to make everything with any sort of psycho-active effect illegal! (It’s being held up in implementation because even civil servants have figured out how hard to adjudicate that is). Woe betide the discoverer of the next coffee, or chocolate.
I didn’t mean this to turn into a self-pitying whine about censorship. But it is important that people like Restrained Elegance stand up and show that you can be into BDSM without being a freak, a weirdo, a danger, a criminal, a pervert. Kinky people are kinky, but still people the same as everyone else. Kinky teachers are not unfit to teach- any more than heterosexual married teachers or homosexual single teachers are unfit to teach.
The people who aren’t fit to teach are the ones who can’t distinguish right from wrong. Not the ones who like to tie up their partner for consensual fun every few weeks, any more than the ones who sometimes have a few too many glasses of wine with their partner every few months are unsuitable to ever stand in a classroom. You can be kinky and sane and safe.
I didn’t expect to have to fight this battle. I thought the internet and kinky websites and the growing acceptance of kink in society was a done deal. I’m a reluctant activist and I devoutly hope this will eventually go the hell away so we can just post kinky fun stuff.
So those are the revolutions. Of course in fifteen years there have been innumerable small changes, less revolution, more evolution. I wondered what the main ones I could think of might be.
I went back to my emails from the early days of the site. In 2002 I had four inboxes worth thinking about- a day email job one, a Restrained Elegance email one, a personal email one. The fourth was not strictly speaking an inbox but served much the same function: a Yahoo groups/clubs account. A lot of the interesting fetish-related discussions had moved there from Usenet, and I used to check and reply to messages there regularly.
Total number of emails on the RE plus personal inboxes: about 10 a day. I can’t consult my particle physics inbox any more (the accounts have long since been deleted) but my memory was of a similar amount. Of order of ten messages a day, covering University business and research and all the communications I needed to be part of as part of the ATLAS collaboration at the LHC. Yahoo traffic was the same order of magnitude: maybe ten messages per day. I’d say there were of order of 30 messages which someone had typed and specifically intended me to read.
Most required a small amount of action on my part, but not more than a few minutes to read through the information and possibly quickly reply.
Today I have six genuine email inboxes, but Twitter and twitter direct messages effectively two more. Facebook ditto. Purpleport for models and shoot stuff. The RE forum. Comments on my blog. Yahoo groups have more or less died, but I follow various technical forums to keep up to date about stuff, and sometimes reply to, so they count as inboxes, too. Fetlife. Texts on my phone.
So the number of inboxes has proliferated.
Furthermore, the number of messages has increased. On a typical day I now get over a hundred messages of direct personal relevance to me.
I’m not counting likes/shares/ats/mentions here, just things a fellow human being has typed intending for me to read it. Most still require only a small amount of action on my part, but there’s an order of magnitude more of them than there used to be from the website emails, and more inboxes to check. I was shocked when I worked that out just now. No wonder I have to keep tweeting about being behind on my emails. I have at least triple, and by some measures ten times the load I had in 2001.
Related is the fact that because I can check my emails in the middle of the night if I wake up and need a pee, I do. In 2001 I had to switch on the computer, dial up, download the emails. I could then read them at leisure.
Now most of my inboxes would push notify me on my phone if I let them.
Ariel and I call it the cycle of doom. Twitter -> Facebook -> Email -> Fetlife -> PurplePort -> Texts -> Twitter -> repeat. It now takes a positive effort of will to create enough time offline to function.
At least people have got a bit used to delays in replying so I don’t get “hey you haven’t replied yet what are you doing you are a crook I am calling the FBI you bastard” emails quite so often now. (When I get them, it is invariably from an American who clearly doesn’t realise that if you email me at 3 o’clock in the morning UK time you will NOT get a reply within the hour).
But this is a big change in the admin load for running the website and having a life in the 21st Century. It is genuinely harder to make clear air time to think about stuff. I’m fifteen years older, of course, which won’t be helping. But it was only when I went and did a count of typical messages per day that I realised that objectively the load is a lot higher it was in the early days.
Video tape is history, DVDs are gone, Membership Sites may be next, and the rise of custom videos
When I started the site, the main way to get video content was still on video tape. Home-writable DVDs rose briefly but despite the better quality could never compete with the instant hit and uncensored nature of online video. Peter Ackworth flooded the web with free pictures to make his analysis that people will only pay for high-definition video and community into a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Print magazines are dead in the erotica industry and are heading that way in the rest of the media too. Television has lost its monopoly, file sharing and pirate sites mean that all content creators are struggling to maintain any sort of business model in the internet age.
It’s not all doom and gloom. Whilst membership sites no longer bring in the money they did, it is still possible to launch a new site with energy and enthusiasm and bring in enough money to make it a very cheerful business. I think the “pay a little for a lot” model is still very attractive- personally, I love paying a small amount to access a huge amount of creative work from some photographer or model’s back catalogue!
What clearly has set the world alight is personal or bespoke service online. You can’t pirate an interactive experience, which is why webcam is huge.
But if you’ve ever tried to google your fave storyline idea for a bondage movie, you’ll find that for all the low-quality pirated crap out there, it’s simply not true that you can find anything you like for free on the internet.
If you like barefoot satin-clad blondes in elegant ballgowns tied and tortured, and you want to see a specific storyline, you’ll probably have more luck at the Restrained Elegance archives. But if you want to see your fantasy properly brought to life in detail, you simply will not find it pre-existing online.
And that’s why custom video has got so big. We noted it a couple of years ago at Fetishcon- pretty much every US producer we spoke to said that custom videos now financed all their shoots. You book the models and locations you need for the custom, cover the direct costs from the shoot fee you charge. If you’re really efficient you might be able to slip in an extra set or two for yourself at the end of the day, and put those up along with the customs on your membership site. The fees people are willing to pay aren’t always enough to pay the producer directly, so you’re usually working for free, but you can generate your own pay from selling the videos afterwards.
Customs are often be REALLY fun to shoot. Challenging, because you don’t have access to the scriptwriter on set to clarify questions, and obviously most commissioning customers aren’t professional scriptwriters. So it can be a tricky reading-between-the-lines guessing game. Shooting customs is a privilege- we get to see inside someone’s head, to their fantasies. Which are often imaginative and fun, at least if you have customers as fab as ours.
The only downside is that it can dilute your own vision, turn you into a cameraman rather than a writer/director/cameraman. I really hope there’s still room for us to shoot our own vision, and that people will still be willing to pay for it. Maybe we need to crowd-fund some of our more ambitious projects to get them off the ground? It is so hard to turn down hard cash to make customs to have enough time to devote to writing our own scripts!
But hell, that’s a really NICE problem to have. Too many people wanting us to make elegant and imaginative films for them? Yes, I think we’ll take that!
So what might the future have in store for Restrained Elegance?
We’ve certainly got some challenges. Censorship, changing spending patterns and administrative overload are just obstacles to overcome. The fact is that in fifteen years the site and you lovely people who follow it have given me the opportunity to bring out the pictures in my head for all to see, and have helped me find a gorgeous super-model wife and partner in kink, and a weird studio house in Wales as the cottage studio in our cottage industry.
The possibilities are endless! I’ve just bought an infrared spotlight and infrared full HD video camera, for next to nothing. We’ve got a dungeon which is closed off to external light. So the first big experiment in our sixteenth year is going to be to see what we can do with a genuinely sense-deprived Ariel in the dark.
We’ve got shoots booked in a fab urban apartment, a spacious and well-equipped dungeon, a uniquely lovely converted farm with sublime colour co-ordination, and an industrial/warehouse space. Those things tick off a few items from a list I never dreamed would have already had 4500+ ideas done and dusted on it.
We’ve got not just one or two but multiple long movie shoots coming up, funded by custom video sponsors which will make our Elegance Studios lineup much more active this year (and it is only the damn time pressure which has stopped me releasing a couple of ES films which are already mostly finished).
We’ve run a film festival and tutorials intend to do more. We’ve got several new people coming to help out on crew, broadening the RE crew family. Fifteen years ago I’d never have believed that the “crew” listing on RE would include fifty people, some of whom are friends and some of whom are even family.
I’ve not gone to volcanic islands or filmed a really long pirate extravaganza. Assuming the censors don’t totally screw us over, I really want to get back to Scandinavia soon and get some more of that amazing six hours a day of golden hour, fjords and mountains and trees and cool blue northern skies. I’d love to shoot more with Claudia from Falcieri designs. I’ve never really shot Steampunk bondage the way I’d like to. We’ve got mountains and lakes all around us now which we’ve only scratched the surface of as far as locations go. I’ve had a “business bitch” epic film in my head for ages which needs to be developed, and I’d really like to film a proper bondage romance, too.
With the huge sensitivity of modern digital cameras, there are lighting situations to be explored that you’d have had to be Hollywood to simulate fifteen years ago. Now we can just shoot them for real. I’m about to book a new round of shoots and there are some models I’m really excited to shoot for the first time- and I’m even more excited about spending a week on location with some of the muses who have inspired the site since the beginning. Ariel has so many dark and kinky fantasies to film that we’d need a staff of a hundred to even scratch the surface. There are future RE members we haven’t met yet who will inspire us and come with us on shoots, or drop us a line on the forum which sparks an idea which turns into some romantic bondage images we’d never have been able to imagine on our own… and which fifteen years ago we’d not have had the skill or resources to bring to life even if we’d had the vision.
It’s going to be a hell of a ride!