The photographer Raf is well known on the underground kink– and club scene, and have been shooting latex fetishists and slaves amongst many others that can be found in previous editions of Playful. We got curious on how it all started and what brought him to Berlin.
You grew up in Poland, how was your upbringing and who were you as a kid?
The true story started in the East Butt-fuck of Nowhere in Poland with a devoted to God, despotic father who sends his only child to the local shaman to cure homosexuality… How cliche!
His score rating in healing this disease was 9 out of 10. I was the 10th one.
I wished those homo-exorcisms were more epic: with me naked, laying on the floor while blood, from a slaughtered black goat, dripping all over my genitals. But it wasn’t.
I may be laughing now, but it was unethical and harmful, exacerbating anxiety and self-hatred combination of Anatoly Mikhailovich Kashpirovsky’s healing hands' show, shaming, and highly toxic Potassium bromide. Till the late 90s, potassium bromide was widely used in the Polish Military Forces to reduce the sexual libido of servicing soldiers.
This 'unfortunate' experience I was brought up with left me with PTSD, depression, and drug addiction. It took me almost 30 years to be me again. Ayahuasca, mushrooms, techno, and Baba (my dog) saved my life.
How did you start as a photographer, and what about it makes you keep on doing it today?
I would name my career path rather unique. My father had ambitions to have a son who is a lawyer. Back then, I was too scared to tell him that I wanted to go to the academy of fine arts, so I wasted five years fulfilling his dreams.
It was a long way to where I am now: I used to run my casting agency, I worked as a hair and makeup artist for 17 years, then I sold everything and went traveling for two years with Maciej, my partner at the time. There was something incredibly cathartic about that, getting rid of everything, tabula rasa, the best decision I have ever made in my life.
I wasn’t taking photography seriously until 2010, when I moved to Sydney and met Way. We created Raf and Way, but it was primarily focused on the fashion industry back then. Moving to this city has changed everything. Berlin changes your perspective, and nothing will be the same after moving here,
Is there anything about your upbringing that motivates you within the work you create today?
It's funny that I have never asked myself that question. Most likely because I wanted to erase that period from my mind. Thinking about it now, I can tell that everything I create today answers my father's question right after he discovered I'm gay: "Do you like eat ass, you fucking faggot?" I was too shocked and traumatized to answer that, but yes, I like to eat ass—a lot. And no one should be ashamed of that.
When was the first time you visited Berlin and what were your impressions of the city then?
I first came to Berlin around 25 years ago, and my image of the city was somewhat distorted as I saw only Schöneberg, an “expired area.” Don’t get me wrong, but I hate labels, putting things in the boxes, and circuit party music. Later, I met many amazingly creative people who have inspired me every day. I also discovered that the hedonist and the decadent vibe are still here. However, such hedonism and decadence have nothing to do with the socio-economic sphere, and I immensely like it.
What makes you decide to live here today?
I wish I could express it in a more sophisticated language, but it doesn’t sound right. I moved here to not give a fuck about anything anymore. Berlin gives me the freedom to do whatever I want without being judged. You move here, and your insecurities and traumas rooted in your past dissolve. Not instantly, of course, but as a result of an organic rejuvenation and self-build.
Watch Raf in Playful Podcast
You come from the commercial side, and have shot a lot of fashion. How did you get into fetish photoshoots, and what about nudity and latex makes your creativity bloom?
I honestly like the experience I had in the fashion industry. After a while, I had my eureka moment when I discovered my interest in capturing cultures of sexuality and diverse expression of kink. Fashion enhances your aesthetics and technique so that your gaze reaches a new level. However, nudity and expression of sexual fetish break the mold that is highly standardized in the fashion industry. Expressing sexualities through photography provides me with a resource for a new study of my eye and myself as a person. The shift in my career results from personal growth and a craving for a new vision that resorts to the world of kink.
What about Berlin inspires you within your profession?
Freedom from social conventions or traditional thinking that Berlin can offer makes room for everyone to be themselves. That diversity is the key.
You’ve also shot some sex clubs, like Gegen for example. What’s your experience when being in these environments? What does that bring you thatmore ’structured’ shoots don’t?
Considering my upbringing in a Catholic family where nudity and sex were taboo, seeing naked people in a club or the park in the middle of the city feels surreal. Every club has an overdose of serotonin. Capturing people in their most comfortable environment is pure pleasure.
You’ve mentioned that you hate labels, and that confronting them is your biggest kink - wanna tell us what excites you in your daily life?
The straightforward conversations excite me the most because the tongue doesn't have a bone; it takes you wherever it rolls. The truth can taste bitter initially but gets sweet at the end. Besides, I am not interested in marginalizing one another through pleasure or kinks. That's why I like to develop an open dialogue with someone who is unapologetically themselves. Brutality and honesty excites me!
Who’s the person behind the lens? What do you do when not working and what interests you besides photography?
The person behind the lens is a sensible dog father and a lovely friend of many. In my free time, I like to discover new techno tracks, go on hiking, and feed my appetite in the best way possible.
When not working, how does your dream day in Berlin look like?
I am finishing the Sunday in Berghain and closing the dancefloor with Freddy K to start on a fresh Monday afternoon.