Beeld: Aleta Cai en Cory Rice

[NSFW] A Dominatrix and a Photographer Team Up to Show Real BDSM

Emerson Rosenthal

Emerson Rosenthal

NYC-based dominatrix Aleta Cai joined forces with Cory Rice to capture the ecstatic and everyday moments between a goddess and her slave.

Beeld: Aleta Cai en Cory Rice

Individuals involved in bondage, discipline, sadism, and/or masochism (BDSM) tend to come off as sexual deviants to the rest of us, whose natural predilections skew "vanilla," that is, free of fetishes and/or kinks. At most, the sedate salesclerk who, by night, immobilizes willing women with rope, is a predator. The aging gentleman who enjoys nothing more than being stripped down and spun on a human-sized rotisserie is a pervert. The CalArts MFA who photographs her naked, food and filth-coated friends must have issues. It's easy to connect things we don't understand with things we fear, but Continuous Beings, a new collaboration between a professional dominatrix and a portrait photographer upends mainstream notions of BDSM with a series of images that are at once classical, modern, sexual, and sacred.

"Maybe it's a dungeon or it's a hotel room or it's a personal space, but really it's an inward experience for the submissive, for the slave, that transcends all of those physicalities and spaces," Aleta Cai, Chinese-American Goddess, High Priestess of BDSM, professional dominatrix, tells me on a particularly sunny day outside on the roof deck of VICE HQ. Seated beside her on the picnic-style table, Brooklyn-based photographer, Cory Rice, agrees: "It becomes this kind of person in a space that's a non-space."

What they're referring to isn't one of Cai's sometimes-workplaces, nor Rice's home studio, but the realm of strictly codified interpersonal dynamics that exist between a Goddess and her slave. Legally speaking, Cai isn't really a deity—she's an NYU Film Studies MA, with another degree in psychology—nor is her subject, b, arguably the star of Continuous Beings, really human chattel. Instead, if you can imagine a living pas de deux incorporating all the most effective parts of hypnosis, improv, neuropsychiatry, religion, and animal training, Cai and b's closed ballet of the flesh and spirit emerges. This is what Rice captures in his exacting photographs of the goddess and her slave, and the elevated objects that connect them.

"We're showing what BDSM truly is and what it is capable of, which is transforming someone's life and healing them," Cai tells me. "There's real content here; there's a real narrative and there's a real personality at play, and a real dynamic we are encapsulating." Set against stark blue and red backdrops, isolated shots frame Cai's whip, flogger, golden strap-on dildo, urethral sounds, and dog whistle, and b's sensory deprivation mask, cock cage, and dog collar as devotional objects. Composited in their final form, as diptychs and triptychs, the series does that that thing that is all but impossible for a BDSM practitioner to verbally explain to the uninitiated: it shows how sexuality can be elevated to psychological and even spiritual levels using but a few objects, honest communication, and a willingness to play.

"In my years of experience," Cai continues, "I understand the aesthetic, how things have already been seen, and how BDSM is traditionally represented. I wanted to stay away from that, while also being true to Cory's aesthetic and interests. We were able to find a middle ground both of us are very happy with." Art history aficionados, curious vanillas, and adherents to radical French philosophy—the series takes its name from Georges Bataille's book, L'Erotisme—alike will agree that anyone can take something from Continuous Beings. At both its least conventional and most basic, it's eye-opening. Check out the series below:

Click here to visit Aleta Cai's website, and here to see more from Cory Rice.

Related:

[NSFW] An Erotic Photography Book Explores the Sinister Side of Love

[NSFW] 23 Neon-Soaked Nude Portraits Explore the Intricacies of Sex and Gender

This Photographer Captured People's Faces the Moment They Orgasm