Jeff Pearlman

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Dirk Hooper

#317
He started by borrowing a friend's camera, and now finds himself as one of America's most sought-after fetish photographers. So what do he and a dominatrix discuss between clicks? Kids, mortgages and Starbucks. POSTED July 10, 2017

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In my eternal quest to find riveting folks to turn into Quazes, I’ve occasionally landed on the websites and Twitter pages of sex workers from myriads walks of life. Some have been strippers, some have been hookers, some have been dominatrix, some have been hypno therapists … the list is long and funky.

Generally, these people (while dwelling in a similar field) have shared little in common—save for the photographic work of someone named Dirk Hooper.

Google Dirk and you’ll wind up with an endless supply of sexy images. What you’ll also find, however, is a genuinely unique and thoughtful dude with a cool world view and a refreshing open-mindedness. Among other things, Dirk co-hosts The Fetish Show, blogs regularly and narratives audiobooks. You can visit his website here, his Twitter feed here and his art gallery here.

Dirk Hooper, welcome to America’s fetish—the Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: Dirk, lemme start with this: From your experiences, what makes a fetish a fetish? What I mean is, some people like being urinated on. Some people like handcuffs. Some people like … I dunno. Eating shit? Being forced to watch Elmo? I dunno. But what’s the line between “normal sexual behavior” and “fetish” (quotes intended).

DIRK HOOPER: Well, there’s the scientific explanation about what a fetish is, then there’s what has become the common usage.

As far as science is concerned, a fetish is a sexual desire that’s based on something that’s unusual and has to be present to get off.

I’ve witnessed and discussed actual fetishes, and, to be honest, they are as much of a blessing as a curse for the people involved. We talked to someone on The Fetish Show who had a boot fetish that affected every aspect of his life, not just what happened in the bedroom. He had to find a partner that would go along with his fetish or he couldn’t get sexually aroused. It forced him to have a very uncomfortable sexual discussion with potential partners, long before most of us would talk about such things. If they weren’t interested, or worse, thought he was a freak, then he had to break away from the relationship.

There’s nothing fun about that sort of thing, and in my experience, a real fetish is almost impossible to get rid of. But … if you find the right partner, then it’s full-on bliss.

The common usage for fetish is much more broad. I certainly use “fetish” to describe a much less clinical desire for things like, latex fashion, high heels, ass and leg worship, balloons, furries, and just about everything under the alternative sun. I think if you use a broader sense of the word, then what separates a fetish from normal sexual behavior is that it’s something unusual. Most hetero men really really like boobs. That’s not a fetish. Now, if you’re sexually aroused by stockings, then you’re in the target area.

Something that bothers me is a desire to use “fetish” as a derogatory replacement for the word “obsession,” and that typically comes from millennial journalists who want to shock you instead of inform you.

J.P.: If you go online, and visit the sites of sex workers, they tend to be dark, mysterious, sexual. There’s clearly an image/mood that’s trying to be established. But I wonder … who are these people up close? What I mean is, when you’re hanging with, say, the domme, the sexual hypnotist … etc … are they just “normal”? What I mean is, beneath the glitz and image and all, are people just people? Between shots is it akin to photographing a gaggle of accountants? Are you talking work and kids and daycare costs?

D.H.: I’ve worked with escorts, strippers, dominatrix, xxx performers, and plenty of kinky amateurs. I can tell you in almost every case that the personal branding you see is a highly-massaged version, or outright totally different, than what those people are like in real life.

They have kids, health problems, relationship challenges, money issues and everything else that your barista at Starbucks, or your doctor has. And yes, often we often talk about that stuff during breaks between spanking submissives and tying genitals in a neat little bow.

The things that make my models and clients different from the crowd is an exceptionally open mind, and a healthy body image.

J.P.: How did this happen for you? Like, how does one become a professional fetish photographer?

D.H.: I recently wrote a lengthy answer to this question on Quora. Please feel free to edit this if you wish. It won’t hurt my feelings.

Anyone can do fetish photography, but it sure helps if you understand the themes and subjects covered by fetish photographers. In my case, I was interested in fetish photography long before I became a photographer. My path to fetish photography was guided by my own personal interest in the fetish and BDSM communities.

I can trace my interest in BDSM back to when I was a kid and had a particularly attractive older babysitter who enjoyed role-playing. What we did was not sexual in any way, but it was imaginative, and since I was smitten by her, I can see how it opened my mind to many possibilities.

By the time I was 13-years old, I began to understand what fetish and BDSM was, and I began to seek it out in movies, television, comics, and books. Once I identified my obsession with the subject, it took off from there.

I have always been an artist and writer. Before I picked up a camera with an artist’s eye, I created art and stories with a kinky edge. My professional background was in comics and illustration. A little over 20 years ago my obsession with the fetish and BDSM community, and my newfound interest in photography collided.

I discovered a local BDSM group through AOL online. Before that, I figured that you had to be in New York or San Francisco to find out about BDSM. This group was active and in Oklahoma City! Remember, this was the 90s, and BDSM was much more underground at the time.

I had a lesbian friend who was also interested in attending a “munch” with me, so at least I had someone to go with me the first time. By the end of that first meeting I was hooked. I began to regularly attend local gatherings, made friends and started to learn about the BDSM lifestyle. At the same time, I borrowed a damaged SLR camera from a friend and began to take photos with a critical eye. When I got a credit card at Sears my first purchase was my own Canon Rebel. What I discovered is that I really enjoyed taking photos.

I was disillusioned with comics and illustration as a career choice. I felt like I was close to really breaking out, but that I really wanted a path in the media arts because I felt like it was more stable and growing.

I returned to college after a long hiatus and took film, video and photography studies under the art department and film and video studies under the English department. What that gave me is a solid foundation in how to do projects and a healthy dose of foundational information for all kinds of media.

So, I had a thrilling new sideline, which was my engagement in the BDSM community, and a need to come up with subjects for my photography projects, both in and out of college. Naturally, I married the two.

Mind you, my illustration work was already kinky. You can see a direct line between what I was drawing over 20 years ago and what I’ve been taking photos of ever since then.

My career in fetish photography really took off when I created a modeling group with my friend Robert Henry, and we began to create paid content for a website. I had a group of models, we had to constantly create new sets, and the whole thing fed on itself.

I learned one hundred times more, just producing set after set, than I ever learned in college. Due to my constant desire to learn and to create unique photo sets, my ability to create different styles really exploded.

Also, because we had a group of models, we started attending events, selling merchandise and meeting fans, which taught me volumes on marketing and business (which is essential if you want to do photography of any sort and be successful).

I really had no idea where this all would lead, but after a few years I began to get work in fine art galleries, published in magazines, and invited to attend fetish events to show my photography.

My interest in the fetish and BSDM community gave me the knowledge and inspiration to do photography using those subjects. My involvement in those communities and my own personal experience gave me access and guided my work to be accurate and respectful. But it was a lot of hard work and attention to business and marketing which allowed me to make fetish photography a career.

J.P.: What’s your process? Soup to nuts. You’re hired by someone. She wants pictures. How does it go from there …

D.H.: I will try to determine, to the best of my ability, what outcome the client wants and work backwards. I do a lot of back and forth through email or the phone to figure out the best place to shoot, and what we need to pull off the photos.

When we’re approaching the shoot date I’ll check in with the client to make sure that everything is going well on her end, and tell her how I’m doing.

On the day of the shoot, if possible, I try to set up early, test the gear and then wait on the client. Once the client is there I like to have some time to get to know her and take her mind off the shoot. The time I spend with a model or client before a shoot is the most important time of the entire process.

During a shoot I try to make sure the client or model is comfortable as possible, and that we completely explore the idea. I pull the trigger a lot since I started using a digital camera. Sometimes the best shot is the first, and sometimes it’s the last, but the shot I missed is always the one that haunts me.

What I enjoy the most is doing post-processing on the photos. Editing the photos down to my favorites and polishing them is pure pleasure for me.

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J.P.: What’s the absolute strangest story from your career? Like, we all have a money story. What’s yours?

D.H.: This is not a story from my career, but from when I was just starting out in the BDSM community.

I was in a relationship with a professional dominatrix and she took me to a dungeon in city far away from where we lived. We went to a play party where she led me naked into a large room with about 50 people, strapped me to an overhead bar and whipped me in front of the crowd.

That was a fairly mundane scene in the BDSM community, but for me to be in that position, in front of all those people, and so new to the scene, it was an experience I’ll never forget.

It’s the strangest story for people who know me, because doing that sort of thing is very much unlike me normally.

J.P.: Greatest moment of your career? Lowest?

D.H.: The greatest moment of my career was being invited to display my photography and attend as a guest of honor at the Fetish Project event in Brussels Belgium. If you’ve seen Eyes Wide Shut, or 50 Shades of Grey, then you have no idea what a real BDSM party is. The event took place in a venue that was several stories tall.

The party-goers were from all over Europe (and beyond). They were all dressed in leather, or latex, or … nothing. There was dancing, and bondage, and sex, and some of the most interesting, beautiful, and loving people that I’ve ever met. The event started at 7pm and didn’t wrap up until 8am the following morning.

As a guest, I got to meet all these incredible fetish models and dominatrix. People approached me all night long and wanted to talk about my work, and about the challenges of doing my work in Oklahoma City. Everyone was so kind and generous. It was everything that I always imagined a kink party would, and should be.

Fetish Project was something I’ll never forget.

My worst moment was during a rope bondage shoot where one of my favorite models passed out while in suspension. Fortunately, the Shibari master who was doing the bondage reacted quickly and took care of the model perfectly.

As it turns out, it was just an overwhelming first-time experience for the model, and she got too excited. But for a moment it was exceptionally scary and a good reminder that it’s important to always have experts involved who know what to do in an emergency.

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J.P.: There’s an idea that sex workers are damaged; that something along the way was fucked up and led them here. Do you see that? And—yes or no—how do you think sex workers become sex workers? Are there common routes?

D.H.: In my experience, there is no common thread that runs through all sex workers. Some come from a history of abuse, and others just have a healthy positive history with sex and sexuality.

Almost every sex worker that I’ve met do have one thing in common—they don’t want to work for peanuts in an office cubicle. I think it’s that motivation that makes them seek an alternative line of work.

They tend to be highly motivated to achieve, and make the most of their work time, and leave plenty of personal time to take care of their other obligations. Freedom is a prime goal.

They work hard, but they play hard too.

J.P.: What are the keys to photographing sexy? Like, how do you bring that out? Are there tricks of the trade? Tools?

D.H.: For me, bringing out sexy starts with finding the right models. And I’m not talking about looks. What I search for are models who are comfortable with their body and interested in doing the style of work that I do.

I get contacted by a lot of models and I can tell a lot by how they fill out their model applications, and by what questions they ask.

The most important thing I can think of to bring out sexiness is to build a rapport with the model, and make sure she is relaxed and having fun. If a model is laughing, or feels free to be silly, or be playful, then we’re in the right place.

I talk to a model throughout the shoot. I’m respectful. I show them the work we’re getting. I’m laudatory and encouraging. Even the most experienced model has moments of insecurity, and I try to assuage that as much as possible.

In the end, I try to make the model (or client) look as good as I can, and I try to relay that to the model from the beginning of the process to the end. Sexiness just follows from that.

J.P.: How do you explain America’s weird relationship with sex? It just seems like we’re so taboo about the whole thing. Can’t talk about it, can’t refer to it, can’t complain about it. Sports! Politics! Religion! All OK. Sex … eh, no.

D.H.: As a boy from Oklahoma, and someone who is in the fetish photography business, I am at the tip of the spear of this discussion. We Americans need to take a long deep breath and let go of our grade-school attitude towards sex.

I’m a BDSM mentor and I recently got contacted by a woman who was concerned that her new partner wanted to be dominant with her, but didn’t want to have a discussion about it beforehand. He wanted to do adult things, but didn’t want to have an adult conversation about it. That’s got to change.

I see this issue time after time. As a society, we have made talking about sex such an icky thing that people have no idea how to have an adult conversation about what we want and need in the bedroom.

Some people think it ruins the mood. Some people are scared to even bring the subject up. Some people just don’t have the vocabulary, or the balls, to talk about the subject. Some people are afraid to share their deepest desires.

One incredible thing about BDSM is that a relationship starts with the discussion of what you’re into, what you’re not into, and what your comfort level is, before anything happens. A good BDSM relationship has a regular and recurring conversation about what worked, what didn’t work, and how things could be better next time.

The vanilla world needs to take a page from BDSM and learn to talk about sex BEFORE you get in the bedroom (and after). You’d be amazed by how valuable it is, and how much it improves your relationship in and out of the bedroom.

You’ll also be astounded by how easy it is once you start.

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J.P.: How has the Internet explosion of the past decade impacted pornography? Imagery? Etc? I mean, I remember buying my brother a Playboy for his 16th birthday—because that’s where the vagina and boobs were. Well, now they’re everywhere. Is it harder to make a living? Easier?

D.H.: I snuck into my parent’s bedroom to look at issues of Playboy. I doubt anyone does that today. The Internet has made porn as ubiquitous as a weather report.

I think there’s something healthy about being able to find images and information about sex so easily. It also makes it much easier to find someone real who is into the same things you are. Those are good things.

Unfortunately, much of what we see on the Internet is not reality. It’s sex with impossibly beautiful people, doing shit that no one really enjoys. I think it encourages trapeze acts instead of the slow, loving, beautiful parts of sex.

The Internet puts us more in touch with each other than we ever have been before, but in reality, we’re more distant than ever before. That’s a terrible by-product of not valuing our time in meatspace. We need to relearn how to be more present in the current moment, and with our current partner.

As for making a living producing porn (and most of what I do is actually closer to Playboy than to porn), the internet has deeply damaged the ability to make good money for most people.

Maybe the industry will find something akin to Netflix to make money, but right now, paid content is getting shared on free sites, and that’s seriously hurting the people who produce this content.

There’s still money to be made, but for Big Porn it’s much harder than it used to be. On the other hand, a savvy entrepreneur with technical and marketing skills, can create a little online fiefdom and make a good living without any of the old gatekeepers.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH DIRK HOOPER:

• Five greatest photographers of your lifetime: I’m going to forget about 20 people here … Helmut Newton, David Lachapelle, Ellen Von Unwerth, Eric Kroll, Gregory Crewdson

• Rank in order (favorite to least): latex mittens, Mark Fidrych, Valentine’s Day, beige, lacrosse, Michael B. Jordan, Victor Oladipo, “Revenge of the Nerds,” Melissa McCarthy: Victor Oladipo, latex mittens, Valentine’s Day, Melissa McCarthy, “Revenge of the Nerds,” Michael B. Jordan, lacrosse, Mark Fidrych, beige

• If you had compromising photos of Donald Trump from a long-ago fetish shoot, but he asked they never be revealed, would you make them public if you knew it’d end his presidency?: LOL! I’m not a psychologist, or a lawyer, but my job relies on people being able to trust me. I’ve got compromising photos of hundreds of people who don’t want them to be public and they will never see the light of day.

• Five reasons one should make Oklahoma City his next vacation destination?: 1. Bricktown and the Riverwalk are both beautiful and fun; 2. The people will treat you nicer than any place in the world; 3. You won’t get better BBQ or Mexican food anywhere. ANYWHERE! Bring it!; 4. It’s going to be a cheap trip. You’ll get more bang for your buck; 5. You can see a world-class NBA team, one of the biggest and most luxurious theaters (Moore Warren Theater), the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, Dale Chihuly’s gorgeous work at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art, do some gambling at Remington Park (or one of the local casinos), and you can meet me!

• Grosser—tuna breath or constant drippy nose?: Definitely constant drippy nose.

• I’ve never understood how Balboa won the street fight against Tommy. I mean, he was brain damaged, old, out of shape. You have an explanation?: It’s heart baby! The eye of the tiger!

No, that’s bullshit.

It’s the same way Stallone won an axe fight with Jason Momoa. He’s producing the damn things!

• Five sexiest parts of the human body?: 1. I’m an ass man, first and foremost; 2. Belly; 3. Lips; 4. Legs; 5. Mind

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: Shit, it was terrifying. I used to love to fly, and now it’s horrible for me.

I was flying out of OKC to see my parents in Tuscon and we were only 15 minutes in the air when a blind man across the aisle told me that he heard that one of the engines had just died.

Soon, we could smell smoke in the cabin, and the pilot told us that we were turning back to make an emergency landing. The oxygen masks dropped from the panel above us, and we started looping around the airport to burn fuel. The lady in the seat next to me kept asking if we were going to die. I told her we’d be fine, and tried to stay cool, but I was worried too.

The descent was easily the scariest thing I’ve ever encountered. As it turns out, the actual landing was the best ever.

We pulled up next to a bunch of fire trucks and those foam dispensers. Firefighters in those silver hazmat outfits stormed the plane before we could get off.

The airline immediately booked me another flight for Tucson, and I was supposed to leave in 30 minutes. I wanted to just go home, but I knew if I didn’t get back on the horse, that I’d never fly again, so I went right back in the air.

Turbulence drives me nuts now.

• One question you would ask Vida Blue were he here right now?: I’d ask who he was, because I have no idea.

• The one song you never, ever, ever need to hear again …: I’d like to gather every copy of “My Heart Will Go On” by Celine Dion and shoot it straight into the sun.

  • Ted Mark

    It’s Vida Blue, and I’m not convinced the guy was out. What struck me was, as bang-bang as the play was, the ump calls him out and everybody goes back to playing baseball. Today, we would have interrupted the game for several minutes to look at video that would probably be inconclusive but could still result in the “wrong” call being made.

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Once again, Jeff Pearlman has produced an exhaustively researched, elegantly written book that re-creates one of the most colorful and memorable teams of the modern era. No basketball fan's bookshelf will be complete without it.

— Seth Davis, author of Wooden: A Coach's Life