I’ve got a terrible memory, but I remember where I was on 1st April 2001 very clearly. I was at the end of a professional trip to the USA as a particle physicist, and I had tacked on a few days holiday at the end of the trip before I flew home. On that particular day I was using the holiday to do a bondage photoshoot with Stacy Burke. After the shoot we stepped outside and were sitting at the pool in the cheap motel (with vast rooms) I’d booked near LAX. The motel had an internet cafe of sorts, and I’d just told Stacy about the little website I was launching that month for which the photos I’d just shot of her were intended.
Sitting in there in the sunshine with one of the mega-stars of the bondage industry, I showed off the site design to her and got a surprise – there was an active membership! The site hadn’t been due to go live until the 4th, when I would have been back home. But the processing company had got everything done a bit earlier, and the site was open. And I’d sold a membership before I’d even known it had gone live.
Sitting here twenty years later with a fifty-something-year-old’s cynicism, it is tempted to snark “and it was never going to be so easy to sell a membership again”. But that’s not true. In the next couple of years, sales exploded. The little website I’d launched to fund my expensive models-and-bondage-gear-and-lighting-and-lenses hobby, that I thought might possibly pay for a little holiday on top of costs some day, was making twice as much money as my day job as a lecturer.
So many land-marks have gone by. I remember 9/11 not just for the horrific attack on the twin towers, but also for the fact that I was shooting that day with Temptress Kate. I remember driving her back across town and talking about what was happening. Two decades on and she is one of the unsung heroes of the UK fetish production scene, collaborating widely, rigging and photographing and appearing on camera regularly despite the ups and downs of life. She set the pattern for the very best of the collaborations that are the reason Restrained Elegance is still around. “Kate shots” entered our vocabulary (a “Kate shot” is one shot through things. The habit of making sure we’ve got all the closeups and detail shots at the end of the set is hers. And she remains the undefeated queen of hairties).
I’ve always preferred collaborating, working in a collegiate manner with models, photographers, riggers, make-up artists and fans. And despite quitting my job as a lecturer, the urge to learn and teach and swap skills is very strong. So I ran a bondage tutorial workshop, and four out of the five participants are people still very much around. One is a regular photographic client of Ariel’s, who swaps techie nerdy info with me on a regular basis (the last time I saw him he came to the house so we could use his new colour meter on all my LED lights, so we could investigate what sort of spectrum each variety was putting out. I gather his studio is a technological marvel!)
UPDATE: I hadn’t realised because I’d lost contact, but Ariel says she still shoots with the other participant from the workshop as well. I’m very proud of that, five out of five!
Two of the photographers from that day became regulars on location shoots and you have seen reams of their work on the site: Merlin and Steve. We’re all really good friends and we can’t wait for the day when COVID recedes and we can book our next location shoot together. They helped us build our infinity cove in the last house, rigged up the suspension point and winch, and added “Merlin shots” (which are the ones with very tilted “Dutch” angles) to the RE vocabulary. Steve was responsible for kick-starting Elegance Studios and in many ways has led the charge for a more cinematic visual storytelling style in our films. Merlin’s just started a Restrained Elegance FaceBook group for us.
The final collaborator on that day was of course Ariel Anderssen. Reader, I married her. We’ve had so many bondage adventures and now live a very eccentric life of OnlyFans, cuddly toys, ineptitude at being grown ups, and a great deal of BDSM. We have a house with a genuine stone dungeon in it. We’re still not quite sure how that all happened. But we’re very grateful!
Of course not everything has been a bed of roses (or if it has, the roses had the thorns left on them). Last night I had a huge clip order go through, and I’m concerned that it might be a pirate with a stolen credit card and am awaiting the possible huge charge-back and appearance of a stack of our films on pirate sites. Piracy has been a feature of the internet since the early days, but it only got properly into its stride with the advent of tube sites. Not to bang on about it, but if somewhere is offering you the chance to see full movies of lots of different producers for free, the odds are the footage is stolen. (https://boundflix.com/en actually pays producers to feature their work, but few others do. The payouts from places like ModelHub are desultory.)
The vast majority of the models I’ve collaborated with have been a pleasure to work with, and some have turned into close work colleagues and friends. I’ve only had one genuinely bad experience (beyond the occasional model flaking off with phony excuses, anyway). The timing is entirely coincidental, but as it happens we made a video about it for Ariel’s YouTube channel which is also up today:
Obviously the industry is not perfect, but both Ariel and I love being a part of it. And we love working with our RE regular cast a crew, especially the “location shoot” teams. Sophia Smith, Faye Taylor, Zoe Page, Fi Stevens, Kobe Lee, Lucy Lauren, Hannah Claydon, Janey, Jasmine Sinclair and Chanta Rose from the early days, Natalia Forrest, Paige Robbins, Penny Lee, Pling, Sabrina, Sammie B, Tillie and more… and we can’t wait to finally get to add superstars like Chloe Toy, Ashley Lane, Cobie, Kitty Quinzell, Lauren Louise, Rachelle Summers, Scarlett Foxett and more to the location shoot list as soon as we can. And there are so many new models I’d love to collaborate with whose twitter feeds and OnlyFans I’m following with great interest in the meantime!
Another major collaborator over the years is someone I’ve never met. He sent me an email with some photos maybe 15 years ago in the aftermath of the bondage tutorial asking if there was a way he could get some of his photos onto Restrained Elegance and maybe do some work together somehow. I was used to international collaboration though CERN, so it sounded like it might work, but I wasn’t completely sold on the idea. Then I scrolled down the email and saw this photo.
OMFG yes send me photos right now. His name was Alexander Lightspear. And hers, you obviously already know – Delta.
Some producers got a bit sniffy about Alexander Lightspear shooting for websites, something denigrating about “buying in content from Russians”. To which my only response was “Have you SEEN Delta? Foxy? Lilith?”. How could anyone pass up the chance to have these amazing models professionally and creatively photographed with great rope-work on their site? Your loss, dudes, your loss. And our gain!
I have plenty of input into these shoots, as with all RE shoots. I give general direction, choose the model, advise on location, we’ve worked together over the years and agreed on technical aspects, fine-tuning the stuff they shoot together for us to fit in with the RE style and ethos. And as with most other collaborators who’ve worked on the site, I get the RAW images and I process them in the RE style. I have as much input as I do with location shoots where Kate and Steve and Merlin are shooting all around the house and I’m running around being the general dogsbody.
And one of the things I’m most proud of is that Delta is still shooting for Restrained Elegance, even though she’s retired from other shoots to concentrate on her mainstream career.
Like pretty much everything else about running Restrained Elegance for the last twenty years it is an honour and a privilege and a huge thrill to have some of the most creative and imaginative global superstars featured on my little hobby site that I built myself from hand-written HTML and which went live on April Fool’s Day in 2001, a few days early, leaving me with the eternal “no, it’s not an April Fool, it really is our birthday” that I’d never have chosen for myself!
COVID has been a bugger, but the RE community has come up trumps. We’re shooting, we’re updating, we have collaborators all over the world shooting in the RE style for the site without us even being there. We’ve even got new collaborators joining in- you’ll see the result of Lou Lou Petite and Dick Bush Films shooting for us before too long, they’re just in post-production now.
Ariel and I are shooting every week, and she’s filming a lot of behind the scenes for her OnlyFans (check it out at https://onlyfans.com/arielanderssen to see how we do things. You’ll see what I mean about eccentric).
(Classic Kate shot, that!)
The industry has been through wave after wave of change in 20 years, which is unsurprising since the industry didn’t really exist 5 years before that. Platforms come and go. Governments crack down, then realise they can’t. (Eventually I hope they’ll realise they shouldn’t: preliminary indications show that violence against women tends to go down, not up, when erotica becomes more generally available). The shift that liberated photographers from the need to pander to magazine clients is now onto the next phase, liberating models from the need to pander to photographer clients. We’re very lucky in having a photographer-model partnership in house so we can get the best of both worlds – I wonder if in 10 years time it is the photographers who will be travelling to the models, and who will have pressure to work prints-for-time.
It’s astonishing really that the basic model – I make photosets and videos I think are beautiful, I put them on the web in as high a quality as the bandwidth will stand, people buy them individually or as part of a subscription service – is still viable. Long may it remain so!
I would close by saying I hope you’ve had as much pleasure, enjoyment and entertainment from Restrained Elegance as we have, but I doubt that’s even possible. So I’ll just say thank you from me and from everyone who has been a contributor and collaborator on the website, your support has just been the best, and I hope we can continue to entertain you for many more years to come!
Happy Birthday Restrained Elegance!