LOS ANGELES - The autumn sun was moving toward the horizon as I stood in the back lot of a sex shop on Sunset Blvd. in Silverlake. I saw about 60 men milling about considering erotic art purchases, whether to dance to a young Latino DJ’s deafening sounds, take advantage of free food or move behind a black curtain strung across a humble metal bar where a handwritten sign read “Hard Zone – donation $5.”
“Hard Art,” fetish photographer Rick Castro, 60, told me the event was called. “And Adrian, the owner of Rough Trade Gear does it every year. It’s to raise funds for Hector Silva.”
Who is Hector Silva? The event invitation on Facebook read, “Hector…is a beautiful, gentle, charismatic and super sexy man, who has donated a lot of his work to help many different causes and to help and support other people when they needed it.”
He’s also a well-known erotic artist and his cancer, which had been in remission for three years, no longer is. 10% of all purchases at the Rough Trade event today will go to Silva for his medical bills and living expenses.
“The fetish community is a tight-knit, small community,” Castro said. Indeed. Brother In Need, a nonprofit group of local leather enthusiasts dedicated to supporting their own, co-presented the event.
Castro’s booth was chock full of his many black-and-white images available for purchase, most of them framed. In addition, his two coffee table books of mostly BDSM photography, Castro and 13 Years of Bondage, were on sale.
A photographer since 1986, Castro, who is a native Angeleno and still drives the same car he’s had since high school, calls himself “a fetish artist.”
After a “mainstream career” in costume design and fashion styling for big stars like Bette Midler, Tina Turner, Mel Gibson and Joan Rivers, as well as celebrity photographers Herb Ritts and Annie Leibovitz, Castro decided “to go into the opposite direction and explore my desires.”
He even used his real name, as opposed to following the advice of his agent, who told him to come up with a pseudonym to protect his career.
Castro, his first book, came about after Durk Dehner, who was involved personally and professionally with the late famous erotic artist Tom of Finland, pitched Castro a publishing deal. The two knew each other from “the One Way, which was the best leather bar ever.” Castro added: “No longer there of course.”
I asked Castro to share one surprising-slash-unique memory.
“Nothing surprises me, because I’m very jaded,” he said, joking (I think). He then recalled a hustler he picked up on Santa Monica Blvd. back in the 90s. “This is before the Internet and before cell phones, so I approached him directly.”
“You want me to model for you?” the young sex worker asked, surprised. His face showed significant scars.
“He was very nervous,” Castro said. “I did one photo…and he ran out the door.” The hustler bolted before Castro could pay him – or find out the story behind those provocative facial scars.