I have been photographing Folsom Street East—the largest outdoor fetish/leather/kink festival on the East Coast—for the past three years. Since 1997, it has become a cornerstone event of New York City’s Pride month. Just a stone's throw away from the new Hudson Yards development, curious High Line tourists stop and gawk at its spectacle: “puppy” playpens, whipping parlors, women in sundresses bound by ropes, and lots of bare, hairy asses. Sex positivity is one of Folsom East’s main missions, and always at the forefront of conversation. It aims to create a safe space where public expression of sexual identity can be freely explored.
As a gay man who was raised in a relatively sheltered household and moved to New York City 8 years ago, I’ve often struggled to find my identity in the LGBTQ+ world, particularly when it comes to my own sexual awakening. As such, my own relationship to this festival has evolved over the past several years. I initially felt lost, like a child who had lost his mother in a department store. (A very sex-positive department store.) But over the last few years, I've found myself drawn to documenting the trust and vulnerability both essential to the kink/fetish communities and inherent to events like Folsom East. With my photos, I aim to showcase the tender underbelly of the community that lives and thrives underneath the latex and puppy masks.
All Photographs by Matt Van Anderson. You can follow his work here.