Peter Diablow: in pursuit of femmes fatales and other darkminded souls.
Peter Diablow has perfected a vivid photographic style that quite literally throws new light on the alternative community in the Netherlands and beyond. In our March cover story interview by Tony Mitchell, Peter reveals how his love of horror films and his background as a filmmaker have shaped both his choice of models and the way he shoots them. Banner/cover model: Nathaly Blue
At the time, I was mightily impressed not just by the style of his latex model photography, but also by his substantial portfolio of people from related subcultures — many of whom seemed to share what might be called a gothic disposition.
I felt then that the Amsterdam-based photographer’s work was worthy of a future cover feature in its own right. So the two of us kept in touch and, at the beginning of this year, finally began actively laying the groundwork for the article you now see before you.
In the last decade, Peter Diablow has photographed just about every fetish, burlesque and alternative model with any kind of standing or potential standing on the Dutch scene.
And believe me, that adds up to a surprisingly large pool of talent for a relatively small country.
He also shoots subjects from further afield whenever he gets the opportunity. And in fact his photographic career began in earnest not in the Netherlands but in America, where he went as a student 14 years ago to study filmmaking.
Fascinated by the artistic potential he saw in a certain exotic type of female, in 2003 he launched a website, DarkmindedAngels.com, dedicated to the photographic portrayal of the type that interested him so much.
‘When I started to encounter more people who see the beauty in darkness I was immediately intrigued and decided to make them the main focus of my photography’ – Peter Diablow
And the female goth population of Boston, where he had begun his film studies, quickly became an important resource for that project.
“I’ve always been fascinated with the dark and the occult,” he tells me. “Being a Scorpio it’s a bit of a natural thing.
“‘Darkminded’ is a definition of people who are into the dark, occult, horror, etc. So when I started to encounter more people who see the beauty in darkness I was immediately intrigued and decided to make them the main focus of my photography projects.
“When I started in 2003 there was no ModelMayhem or alternative models websites; even MySpace wasn’t around, let alone Facebook.”
So, he explains, the best way to meet models for his project was through a gothic dating site, and in real life, at Manray, the famous Boston goth/industrial club.
“When writing to girls on the gothic dating site, I always had to specify my interest was only for shooting photos of them, which was always a hassle.
“But meeting people at a club made things easier because your intentions can be specified easier, plus you see if you connect with someone, which makes setting up a shoot and the actual shoot so much easier.”
In his bio, Peter Diablow mentions that in his first year, he was fortunate enough to secure a shoot with Dita von Teese. How did such a stroke of luck come about, and what did he take away from the experience?
“Dita was due to perform at Manray sometime in 2003. When I found out she was coming to Boston I was excited — she was the queen of burlesque and the fetish scene at the time.
“I thought it would be a major boost for me and my project to work with her, so I got bold and contacted her management.”
(Thinking back, he adds, it was “extremely bold” because he didn’t even have a great camera at that time — just a simple digital model. But he had already made a name for himself in the local scene and especially at Manray, for which he had photographed the winner of the Miss Gothic 2003 contest.)
OPENING TIME: Peter Diablow with Rubberdoll
“The shoot with Dita was set up fairly easily,” he recalls, “and working with her was a dream. She was very professional, very kind, and whatever she does, she can’t look bad in pictures!
“It was an eye-opener to me working with a great performer as well. I had shot with beginning models before, and a true performer can make such a difference.
“Today, I prefer models that have some stage experience because they give that extra bit of spark when shooting, since the shoot to them is also a performance.
“That said, I can also honestly say that having Dita in my portfolio helped me enormously with getting new models. People seemed way more eager to shoot with me after the Dita shoot than before it, which helped me a lot getting models in America during my time there between 2003 and 2007.”
In a 2008 interview with the short-lived magazine Fetish, Peter Diablow declared that his favourite types of subject were “psychotic looking women, crazy women, psycho bitches…women with an aura of insanity around them… women who look like they would really murder… in other words the real meaning of a femme fatale”.
Would he still say this about his choice of subjects now, almost a decade further along in his photography?
“But I don’t refer to these types as ‘psycho bitches’ any more!
“I have become more mature and have done more research into the subject of the femme fatale and women who have a reflection of the darker things in life — dark mythical goddesses such as Hedetet, Lilith and Persephone, the animal within, and females of the predatory type.
“I also find beauty in the shapes and forms of female predators of other species such as felines, praying mantises, black widows, octopuses and other animals built for the kill.
“Many cultures revere women with the strongest traits and place them as goddesses. I like to do the same with my art. I just try to make goddesses out of women with the strongest dark traits.”
It should therefore come as no surprise that Peter Diablow is a fan of horror films — or that his taste for femmes fatales developed from his exposure to the heroines of such movies.
HIGH ART: Peter with aerial performer Yusura
“Oh yes, it definitely started with characters from films and strong female characters in films,” he confirms.
“I was practically raised with horror films — which translates back into my work in the way of lighting and subject matter — and women in horror films have always made a great impact on me.
“I remember when I was 12 and saw Bram Stoker’s Dracula by Francis Ford Coppola, and there was a scene where the three vampire brides of Dracula rise from the bed Keanu Reeves is lying in.
“I was really jealous and hoped for my own three vampire brides to rise from my bed at night!”
After college in Boston, Peter Diablow relocated to New York to attend film school there. And in Manhattan in October 2005, he began part-time work as house photographer for famous commercial dungeon Pandora’s Box, and for The Vault magazine.
He was in the city during what was still the classic era of New York’s professional domination businesses, with other legendary establishments such as Nutcracker Suite and Arena Studios sharing the limelight with Pandora’s Box.
Diablow’s connection with Pandora’s arose via one of his models who was also a dominatrix there.
“Having shot with her at that location before, I knew what an amazing place it was. With all the different themed rooms — medical, Chinese torture room, medieval — and the Paddles SM bar next door, they called it ‘the Disneyland of the SM scene’ at the time, and it truly was.
“I was doing film school at the time and I couldn’t imagine a better location for student films than those rooms. So I wrote my film stories to fit those rooms and made a deal with the owner, whereby I could use the rooms for a few hours in trade for photos of his dominas.”
This later resulted in Diablow becoming the dungeon’s house photographer. What was it like working with all those professional dommes? “Great,” he says.
‘I got all the ins and outs about their work from the Pandora’s Box dominas, and many secrets of the scene – including some well known clients whose names I shall not mention’
“I always worked with them as equals. There was no difference in power between us, which was great for some of them because day in, day out they had clients that would come into Pandora’s wanting to be dominated. With me they didn’t have to do that and I would treat them as equal.
“With some of them I had a really good connection so I became friends with them, or worked with them on other projects as well. I got all the ins and outs about the work from them and many secrets of the scene — including some well-known clients whose names I shall not mention!
“It also gave me a lot of respect for women who are professional dommes, the business side of SM, those who have morphed into becoming dominant and those who are dominant by nature.”
It sounds like Peter Diablow would have been very content to remain in NYC, instead of returning in 2007 to his roots in Amsterdam. And he quickly confirms it.
“I wasn’t happy to leave NYC. It was the town that was closest to my personality. I still consider it a second home.
“I miss the people and the friends I made there, I miss the NYC craziness out in the streets and at the clubs, I miss the vampire scene which was so vivid during the time I was in NYC.
“It wasn’t my original intention to leave NYC or the US for that matter, but my study of film had come to an end by 2007, my residence permit expired and I was forced to go back to Amsterdam.”
But fortunately, once he was back in Amsterdam, there were “enough interesting people” there to get the photographer over NYC more quickly than he expected.