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Design By Humans
Published On: Thu, Sep 14th, 2017

THE SEX FILES: Richard Pérez Seves discusses his book Charles Guyette: Godfather of American Fetish Art

You know me and books about fetish imagery and subjects (maybe you don’t…I love them!). For me, reading about some kink or a photographer, as much as pouring over black-and-white images, really peaks my interest. So I was as thrilled to come upon Richard Pérez Seves’ new Charles Guyette: Godfather of American Fetish Art.

Seves was introduced to Charles Guyette while researching his soon-to-be-released Eric Stanton & The History of The Bizarre Underground. At one time known as the “G-string King,” Guyette was on hand as much as a seller of accessories and clothing to strippers as he was a stylist for fetish clothing shoots in the 40’s and 50’s. He would come to be one of the main distributors of a particular type of photo produced, ones we are familiar with showcasing models like Bettie Page. Seves presents many black and white images of the sexiest fetish models, and a well-researched bio of Charles Guyette, I dare say probably the most extensive one of its kind. I had the chance to speak with Richard Pérez Seves’ about his book, Charles Guyette: Godfather of American Fetish Art, which you can order here.

Guyette, like Irving Klaw, wasn’t exactly a photographer, but a ‘stylist’ when it came to these particular photos, is that accurate?

Guyette and Klaw—and let’s add John Willie and Eric Stanton—were subversive, cultural transgressors. Unlike lots of the photographers who took the “nudie cutie,” they pushed the cultural envelope and risked imprisonment with other fetish art publishers/distributors (e.g., Edward Mishkin, Leonard Burtman). Guyette went to federal prison in 1935 and Klaw was convicted in the early 1960s.

How about a little background on you? Are you a writer who always surfs these kinds of subjects … and why?

I guess you can say my great passion is cultural archaeology. I’ve always been interested in outcasts, misfits, and bohemia. In many ways, my interest in vintage fetish culture —what I’ve dubbed “the bizarre underground” —is an extension of that.

What’s it like in this day and age publishing a book like this?

Unfortunately, it’s very difficult to publish a book like this through a traditional publisher. So I needed to go the D.I.Y. route to make it happen. This book is P.O.D. because there was no other way, in this age, to publish a title like this. “Print On Demand,” I’ll admit, can be a little inconsistent as each copy is printed individually and not part of a monitored offset print run in which all copies would be virtually the same. But I priced it super-low for a reason—I wanted to get this essential history out there, wanted Guyette to finally get the attention he deserves.

Do you think the mainstreaming of fetish fashion lately has helped or hurt in preserving the history of such a rich historical tradition?

What can you say? It wouldn’t be so bad if mainstream culture acknowledged these underground pioneers—Charles Guyette, Irving Klaw, John Willie, Eric Stanton—but the mainstream won’t, because the stigma of BDSM remains … even as LGBT culture gains traction and acceptance in mainstream America, the BDSM underground remains “in the closet”—shamed and ignored.

Unfortunately, many slick, alternative couture (fetish fashion) websites today have done nothing to remedy this. They should know that it can’t always be about “surface” and slickness. By not acknowledging the past and its own pioneering history, our forefathers, they continue to perpetuate a throwaway trendy shallowness. History lends meaning to a culture, and a culture that does not embrace and record its history is destined to be forgotten. What we have today is this fragmentation of a culture that still has no real identity or pride or sense of purpose.

I know you are also putting the finishing touches on your book Eric Stanton & The History of The Bizarre Underground. Can you tell us a little bit about that book and what you cover in it?

The new book, which will be in hardcover, is an illustrated biography of Eric Stanton that also covers all the major players of the golden age of fetish art (1940s – 1960s): Irving Klaw, Leonard Burtman, Edward Mishkin, and Stanley Malkin. There are even chapters on Steve Ditko, Bettie Page, and Charles Guyette. It’s amazing what these people went through, what they suffered. It involves the FBI, abuses of government authority, social intolerance, and gangsters. It’s a labor of love project that has, more or less, taken over my life for the last six years. It’s an epic American story. The book should be out sometime in 2018.

You can find more about Richard Pérez Seves’ work here.

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THE SEX FILES: Richard Pérez Seves discusses his book Charles Guyette: Godfather of American Fetish Art