To see fetishist images in mainstream media is hardly news worthy, seeing fetish magazines such as ‘Bizarre’ is as common place. To imagine that once upon a time, such publications were not only unthinkable; it could send you to jail. One artist especially helped make fetish more palatable but no less lovely. John Willie.
Born John Alexander Scott Coutts on 9th December 1902 in Singapore. His family left for England, where he stayed until 1925. Like so many Brits, Willie decided to quit the drizzly England for the Australian sunshine. Here he began his career working for a High Heeled Club, meeting fellow enthusiasts and the wider publications catering to such interests. Choosing the pseudonym John Willie. After 20 years, Willie left for North America; first Canada before settling in New York around 1946 or 1947.
New York proved fruitful for Willie. He worked with famed fetish photographer Irving Klaw, but his greatest legacy came from the publishing world. ‘Bizarre Magazine’ was established in 1946, here Willie could indulge in his most favourite (most popular) images; these include BDSM, high heels, tight lacing and amputee fetishism. Creating wonderful photographs, art and covers. After producing the first 23 issues of ‘Bizarre’ , sporadically for 10 years. Willie sold up and was replaced by Mahlon Blaine as illustrator and by R.E.B as editor. His other great feature was ‘Sweet Gwendoline’, the illustrated tales of innocent Gwendoline, a classic damsel in distress. Throughout the story, she finds herself tied up by a benevolent agent U-69 (or 86 in some editions). Villainy comes in the form of Sir Dystic D ‘Arcy, a spoof version of Willie himself. Some have accused Willie in his depictions of women tying up other women as alluding to lesbianism.
Finding love and companionship is difficult, plenty of fetishists are afraid that is their possible partner will recoil with horror and be branded a freak. To imagine a person with a penchant for bondage, high heels and rubber gags in the 1940’s finding a fulfilling relationship must have been even more daunting. Willie may have had one divorce behind him but he appears to have found a true soul connection; in the form of Holly Faram, marrying in 1946. Not only was Faram of a similar persuasion bit she doubled as his muse and model for his photographs (last picture).
Depictions showing bondage of women have been accused by some as being misogynistic. Generally speaking, seeing women being tied up makes people uncomfortable. If you are not part of the bondage/fetish community, if you were to see a woman being hog tied say, or gagged. Many would assume that the women are being abused. This is where context becomes important. Sure, there are some subcultures were women are restraint and it is clear that they are being viewed as sub-human. Abuse is never OK. End of discussion. What is vitally important is that as a scene, bondage can be a safe and exciting form of sexual expression. In the a loving relationship, if anyone especially a woman finds pleasure in being restraint but not hurt, then who is to say that she is being exploited? Personally I feel that Willie’s art is far from being a product of a sexist mindset, were women must be subservient mans desires. Women are seen to be retraining other women, in fact there are very few men at all in his works.
Willie’s life ceased on 5th August 1962. What Willie has given the world is to show that fetishism could be artistic but not degraded (or so I believe). Helping people with certain preferences know that they were not alone, that their tastes were not fiendish but were just a little different. In my mind, you can appreciate his work even if you are not into BDSM. Because art does not need you to have the same ideas as the artist, just that you judge them by their work only. Here I think Willie has proven to be a talented artist on his own merit.