Transformation: G Elliott Simpson's photography is showcased in a lavish and erotic coffee table book
by Drew Rowsome
"I think my work is about sex but it always shocks me when people email me about a photo of mine that they jerk off to every night," says photographer G Elliott Simpson. "It blows my mind. The idea that anyone would masturbate to my work or look at it as porn . . ."
Simpson's work is too artistic and clever to be classified as "porn," but it is viscerally erotic. Erotic enough that art book publishers Bruno Gmunder are publishing a collection of Simpson's photographs - that they bill as "cutting-edge fetish photography showcasing rubber and latex" - entitled Transformation.
"Bruno Gmunder had approached me five or six years ago about a book," says Simpson. "A lot of the guys that I photographed ended up using their photos on Recon. Then Recon came after me wanting to buy my work for their site. As soon as Recon started splashing those images all over, Bruno Gmunder came after me and asked me to be part of an anthology called Night Visions which was my first publication. Then they asked me to be in another anthology Brave. I got the impression they were testing, running me in as many anthologies as possible to see what flies and what doesn't. And then Brave had a calendar that came out and two of my images were in that, two out of 12. But right after Night Visions they were pitching my book."
Simpson shrugs, "My work is right on the edge of 'It's too edgy' or "It's not edgy enough.' That's the common response I get. I don't find my work scandalous at all. The most scandalous thing about my work, it's more unsettling I think, especially to gay men, is the incorporation of carnality and death so intimately linked. They shied away from that in the book to a large extent. There's a couple of pieces, the one with the skull mask, There's kind of a narrow band of my work in the book that sticks with black, latex, sexual fetish, and doesn't have skeletons or portrayals of the afterlife."
Playwright Brad Fraser wrote the foreword to Transformations and in it he details Simpson's process and what it is like to experience. "Bruno Bmunder said, 'Oh, we need an introduction. Can you write it?' I was like, 'You're the book publisher, shouldn't you write it?' They had asked about a year ago about who I would like to write the foreword and there were two names on the list: Clive Barker and Brad Fraser. I was so happy with what Brad Fraser wrote in the introduction. He connected with my experience and his experience of the whole process. He gets my work instinctively. Beyond the fetish aspect. I'm not sure if I should talk about that. Will it help sell the book? Will it scare people away? I don't think it's really taboo any more. Unless it's kids or poop, nobody really gives a shit or bats an eyelash."
The legions who have been moved, and aroused, by Simpson's art will treasure Transformations but he was aware that some may not. "I have a lot of people come to my shows but after it's, 'I couldn't actually buy something and put that in my house because my mom would be scandalized by it or my friends would think I'm crazy," he says before warning. "Don't expect me to cater to your sentiments. I create art." And fortunately, "I've tried photographing birthday parties and cute animals and it doesn't turn out so interesting. People don't like them. What they like is the other stuff."