Fraud Blocker

People of hellfire

Chantel Bann
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Entry Fee: Free

The Sydney Hellfire Club ran for 26 years, 10 months. I photographed the last 2.5 years until it closed on its own terms in December 2019, and fortuitously before having to submit to the catastrophic impacts of COVID-19.

Hellfire was a refuge for those who originally didn’t fit in with, and those who felt alienated by, mainstream society. For some it was dressing up, for some it was BDSM. There were people with interesting fetishes, and others just looking to escape the mundanity of their daily lives. But it wasn’t just about the fringe-dwellers having a space to feel…safe. Lawyers, judges, teachers, politicians all frequented. Actors, musicians, artists, celebrities too. Worlds collided in every way, tied by a shared interest in subversion and kink. Hellfire gave permission for normals to be freaks and for freaks to get freakier in a stomping ground made for playing with identity and challenging binary blandness.

Consent is key within BDSM, kink and fetish communities. As such it was not good enough for me to simply candidly document what I saw, instead I needed to constantly negotiate on a heightened level the exchange that takes place between photographer and subject. This was not about ‘stealing’ a moment from a subject, even if they were playing out their most submissive roles or being hyper-exhibitionistic. Consent was given before a photo was taken – verbally or through body language – through quick conversation or a simple nod of the head. I would show people their photo on the back of my camera and if they weren’t happy, we’d reshoot until they were. Some cared more than others. Some took a little more encouragement. Some wanted to be photographed multiple times throughout the night and could be quite demanding. Photos would be deleted if requested. Subjects were submissive to my camera but essentially retained ultimate control.

Many thanks go to the Sydney Hellfire Club’s organisers Master Tom and Ultra for working so tirelessly to keep the show going for just under 27 years, and also to the club’s photographers before me who helped establish the trust between photographer and patron long before I came onto the scene.

Chantel Bann is a Sydney-based photographer with a strong affinity for people, music, arts and culture and with a specific interest in the performance of identity whilst exploring the fine lines between the candid and the controlled. Chantel has worked closely with musicians and a variety of performing and non-performing artists for 15 years, as well as working commercially documenting exhibitions, events and television production.

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Entry Fee: Free
© Rob Johnston

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