While at a bar in Soho in London I saw two men dressed as though they’d just stepped out from Robert Mapplethorpe's famous image Brian Ridley and Lyle Heeter, 1979 (right).

The famous photograph shocked many when it was first published because, according to the Tate, it showed the contrast between the apparent normality of the conventionally decorated living room, with the harsh leather clothing.

And so I wondered, were Mapplethorpe still alive who might he have photographed in the suburban living rooms of men from the fetish and BDSM community forty years on in London?

Flowers is a series of portraits in response to that question.


Bolt in his drone suit, West Hampstead.

First, a thank you...

Flowers has been the most complex photographic project I've completed and has taken many hours of research and careful negotiation.

I am not in the scene so it's been tough, finding the subjects and convincing them to be photographed. But that's the easy bit. It's then asking to be invited into their homes and persuading some of then to reveal their identities. 

For many people their kinks and fetishes remain deeply hidden which explains why for every man you see photographed I got scores of rejections, somewhere in the hundreds. I am deeply indebted to everyone in this project who's been brave enough to trust and then open up to me.

I feel like every subject in this project has been like tending a very rare flower. Not without co-incidence that they one of the main themes in Mapplethorpe's work. These are the flowers I've nurtured and I thank each one of them.

The men

Bolt, West Hampstead

Rubber, constriction and sensory deprivation.

"I like full body bondage, constricted and covered from head to toe. Constricted.

Hoods allow me to be someone, or something, different. I don't think we're ever just one single defined person forever, but a number of alternate identities."

Bolt was very keen to protect his identity.

Prior to the shoot he wore sunglasses and a hat, even while he assembled and fitted into his gear. I suspect the name he wrote on the model release isn't his real name so the reality is I don't actually have any idea who this man is.

All I have are these photos, the words I jotted down while we spoke and a generic email address.


"Sometimes my job makes me incredibly stressed and if I've had a long day at work - or had to deal with difficult situations - I find the best way to relax is for my partner to tie me up in my sensory-deprived sleep sack and chain me to the wall for a few hours. I can just be still and let all the tension drain away. It transports me to another place."

Tom, Hackney


"My suit's made up of 2 layers. The inside layer compresses against your body whilst the outside layer inflates like a balloon. A pump inflates the suit. To remove the air you either unseal the nozzle where it's inflated you you can wait for it to naturally deflate.The fun way is for someone to lie on top of you until the suit deflates."

"Being photographed in my suit was a very empowering experience for me. Putting this gear on and allowing it to be seen and enjoyed by everyone still feels like I’m exposing a very raw and tender part of my sexuality" - Tom

Sheldon, Primrose Hill


"Wearing my leather makes me feel powerful and in control. It makes me feel very confident, like I need to mind my manners. I love how it looks and the sound it makes and the smell of it.

Sometimes I am a sir, sometimes I am a boy."

"I love the community. Some of the friendliest men you'll meet are in the leather scene" - Sheldon

Fawkink, Lewisham

Sports kit and leather

Fawkink was the most thoughtful about his fetishes and kinks and we spent more time talking than we did taking photographs.

Most of the time with the other guys there was a fair amount of talking about usually the photography dominated our time together.

Coming from an ethnic minority background, and being gay and also in the fetish community has caused Fawkink to think a lot. Many of the things he was able to articulate so well were shared by many of the other  participants.

For many their attraction to the kinks or fetishes they are interested in, comes from some sort of profound event in their childhood, whether good or bad.

Being able to lean into what happened helps many of them deal with what they experienced, especially if it was traumatic.

One of the men spoke about how they were mercilessly teased as school for being effeminate and his latex fetish was a means for him to harness those deep feelings of shame and turn them into something positive.

Rogan, Vauxhall

Muscle worship, lycra and macrophilia.

"When I was young I realised, for better or for worse, that in order for me to be confident and happy with myself I had to be a muscle beast.

The gym became my church. Bulking every day because I always wanted to be bigger.

My father, who was straight and also a bodybuilder (he dropped dead at 61 after winning Mr Universe) worshipped other men's physiques not in a sexual way but rather because he was competitive.

I want to be worshipped by other men, that's why I became a muscle beast. And because I am gay it's very sexually driven.

I have been on a long journey, from an insecure, shy and self-shaming boy into a muscular and sexually confident male.

I am king, an alpha muscle daddy."

"I’m a firm believer in loving yourself. Which doesn’t mean you're better than anyone else if just means you're happy with the person you are inside and out. 

That’s not to say I think you have to be a bodybuilder to be happy.

I didn’t make myself look like this to be liked by others I did it so that I could like myself."

Rogan is a popular personality on adult social media and his fetish to be a "muscle beast" triggers kinks in other men who are attracted to aspects of the gym, including sweaty clothing.

His unwashed gym kit, including socks and underpants, are in a plastic bag on the kitchen table to be shipped to someone who's bought them.

Tom, Shepherd's Bush

Latex, rubber and sports kit

'One of my alter egos is Candy. She's super sexy and that means when I put on the outfit for me, I transform into Candy. I have gear for different roles. When I get into my rubber gear I am the alpha. When I gear up I can be whatever I want and it's a huge turn on. Candy on the other hand is voracious and wants to serve whatever  and whoever she can. 

Tom - if that is indeed his name - is another participant whose identity is unknown to me.

He sent me his address as a disappearing image on social media and in his flat had moved out of sight, any item that could have identified him.

He suggested we shoot in his bedroom where he'd set out his various pieces of clothing on his bed. Anything else in the room had been cleared away.

He changed in his ensuite bathroom and emerged as his character Candy. He insisted on playing the song 'Sweet But Psycho' by Ava Max while we shot and didn't say a word.

After the shoot I tried to find out at least what his name was or what work he did. Nothing.

'Candy would love for the entire football team to have their way with her. She's hot and she's ready.'

Nick, Hoxton


"Putting on gear is like stepping into another version of yourself. I feel the power of it. It emboldens me. The jacket holds my shoulders differently. The cap changes how I look onto the world. I bring that power into myself."

The look of the leatherman is part of what makes leather so powerful. It exudes sex, masculinity, an acceptance of filth, and the darker sides of sexuality.

But gear is more than just the sex there is a true community within leather. When you adorn this gear, it is a great equaliser, your jobs, your position in the world outside mean nothing, you're part of something more equal."

Mark, Camden Town

Latex, pony play

Mark's outfit was definitely the most outlandish I saw and also probably the most expensive. He said his footwear alone cost several hundred pounds.

The clothing or 'gear' many of these men wear is incredibly expensive and much of it is custom made. It conveys the dedication many of them feel to their kinks or fetishes which may have evolved over several years.

Philippe and Cal, Clerkenwell

Rope play.

Although this photo appears the odd one out because it shows two guys in the middle of their fetish play, it's not.

All of the men who dressed in their gear said the act of just wearing the clothing was pleasure in of itself. The wearing is as important or exciting as anything they would do while in their kit.

Little was said during this shoot between me,  Philippe and Cal and suspension itself was over fairly quickly. Philippe (in the leather trousers who's doing the tying up) explained that it was incredibly painful and the pleasure was in the vast amounts of adrenaline and endorphins that are released when one is suspended.

He also told me he had builders reinforce the ceiling, especially so that he could do this in his sitting room.

Tish, Limehouse

Latex, femme domination.

One of the reasons Mapplethorpe's photo shocked people when it was published was because it gave a clue about how consenting adults might dress (and behave) in private.

It's one of the reasons this project has been so fascinating, to pull back the curtain just slightly on the people who could be living next door.

Miko, Kennington

Puppy play, rubber.

Miko was the first guy I photographed for the project. I found him through a friend who is also a photographer.

I asked my photographer mate, do you know any guys in the fetish scene in London? Yes, many. It's a lot more common than you think.

Miko is into puppy play which he explained as being almost entry-level. Puppy play is where many men first come into contact with the kink scene.

It takes the form of consensual adult role play where one person is the owner, and the other is the subservient "pup".

Miko says he wears different masks for the different personalities he has in role play.

This image of Miko is featured in the book Portrait of Britain Vol II, by the British Journal of Photography and Hoxton Mini Press, 2019.

Final thought on my project and Robert Mapplethorpe.

Although this project is inspired by a photo taken by the iconic photographer, I was not trying to retake or restage Robert Mapplethorpe's pictures. These are my vision and my photographs. One of the keenest lessons I've learnt as a photographer is not to try and take other peoples' pictures.

I debated whether to use a Hasselblad 500 camera, as he had done to produce most of his work but again, Flowers is about the spirit of the photography not the technical equipment or trying to emulate anything. I use a different type of medium format film camera.

For further information please email me; studio at roberttimothy.com

Mapplethorpe photo credit:

Brian Ridley and Lyle Heeter, 1979. Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Tate Galleries, Scotland.