Mistress Morrigan Hel is among the dominatrixes that photograhper Max Eicke captured in his Dominas project / Max Eicke

After spending three years documenting dominatrixes, photographer Max Eicke shares what he learned about BDSM and sex work 

“Once I met up with a dominatrix in her dungeon to talk about the project and she told her ‘slave’, who only wore a loincloth, to bring me a Coke,” says photographer Max Eicke, who spent three years documenting dominatrixes. “I had no idea how to react,” he admits. 

“A bit later she asked him to join our conversation. It turned out he was an art historian and he added quite interesting thoughts to our discussion,” says Eicke. 

The Berlin-based photographer first considered capturing women who make a living by taking control of their clients in BDSM role play scenarios when struck up a conversation with a stranger on a plane who revealed herself to be a dominatrix. He became fascinated by the scene, but merely found "cliched" takes on the hidden world and decided to approach the hidden world in a "documentary" and "humane" way in his project 'Dominas'. 

Being handed a bottle of pop by a BDSM slave, with whom he went on to unpick theories of sexual liberation, and other encounters like it, helped to shift Eicke’s perceptions of sex work, he says. 

“Situations like that really changed my mind and surprised me in positive ways. For me it's really about the people and not their masks or roles." 

Owing to the underground nature of their work and the fact that Eicke had never contacted a dominatrix before, he had to resort to a cold-calling women to find subjects for his project.

“Their reactions ranged from confusion over curiosity to helpfulness or even aggressiveness,” he says. “Most of them were highly suspicious at the beginning since they had bad experiences in the past, ranging from private weirdos stalking them to reputable media representatives wanting to present them as perverts. At first I was looking for open conversations.

"Often I first had to explain that I was not a potential client looking for a free session in exchange of photographs. Sometimes it was quite tricky to get beyond the stereotypes and also the women's expectations.”

First, Eicke would meet his subjects in a cafe or bar to explain his plan, before they met up at his studio for photographs and interviews that could take up to a day to capture. 

“I just chatted away with them looking for some moments in between. When shooting with a large format camera you cannot make the sitter forget the camera though, the camera is always present. Regarding the outfits it was important to me that they chose something they felt comfortable with and what they would also wear for their job as I sensed that the outfit really was a big part of their professional personas and identities.”

Over the course of three years, Eicke also learned about how BDSM is mistakenly seen as only violent, leaving little space for romance, emotions or love. 

“It is unimaginable for many people that BDSM is based upon mutual consent and that pain with relish requires an enormous amount of honesty and open communication," he says. "Speaking to so many people from the BDSM and fetish community I really got the impression that within this scene there is often more respect for one another, a better knowledge of safer sex and a higher level of openness and trust than in many conventional relationships."

Dominas by Max Eicke is out now 

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