This year's 36th annual International Mr. Leather conference drew a diverse contingency of leathermen and leatherwomen to the city of Chicago. An estimated 20,000 visitors participated in the annual gathering’s events, and while it's generally considered a conference for leather, latex, and kink, the weekend’s festivities culminate in two contests: International Mr. Leather, and the International Bootblack Competition.
Over the weekend, I wandered throughout the Marriott in downtown Chicago with my camera, meeting and photographing a wide gamut of fetishists and visitors. I observed men bound and tied, whipped, and stimulated with ropes and toys. I celebrated the notion of being “body-positive” and witnessed men of all sizes squeezed into latex onesies. I sniffed boots, befriended a group of leather-uniform fetishist who later made fun of my Birkenstocks, and witnessed mothers covering the eyes of their children as they walked passed the hotel. I practiced my bandanna decoding, was reminded that all properly made leather chaps are assless, and learned that someone who enjoys “CBT” might not be talking about cognitive behavioral therapy.
Since the State of Illinois legalized same-sex marriage yesterday, there is no question that the gay community has become more and more accepted by the larger society. But when it comes to subcultures like leather and kink, there still seems to be less tolerance, and many argue that the community is waning. No doubt the majority of revelers and hedonists last weekend were men in their 40s and 50s, but a scrappy group of young pups, young masters, and leather fashionistas were still present, strong, and eager to get their asses into gear.
Christophe Tedjasukmana is a New York–based photographer.