In Pictures: An Anonymous Rubber Fetishist’s Life in British Suburbia

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Rain Time by Augenblick Press
Rain Time by Augenblick Press

An archive of anonymous self-portraits now on show at the Horse Hospital reveals a hidden story of sexuality, domesticity, and fetishism conducted behind closed doors in 1960s London

The archive of anonymous self-portraits which has come to be known as Rain Time is as mysterious as it is at once bizarre, poignant, and truly fascinating. Salvaged from a house clearance in the London suburbs, this prolific series of images appear to span the 1960s, and depict an anonymous, female-identifying rubber fetishist using their home bathtub to indulge in a fantasy of deep-sea submersion. The collection of around 500 images, which was discovered amid five cardboard boxes of newspaper cut-outs and ephemera, reveals a hitherto hidden story of sexuality, domesticity, and fetishism conducted behind closed doors in the sprawling city’s outskirts. According to Sam Kilcoyne, the custodian of this precious archive and the founder of Augenblick Press, “The pictures really extend the horizon of our idea of quaint British suburbia.”

Rain Time, an exhibition of images from this mesmerising collection has now opened at London’s Horse Hospital. Yet, while the intimate images are displayed in public for the first time, their creator is still a total enigma.I know close to nothing about the photographer. There aren’t any photos revealing their face or any personal details in the archive, so it remains a mystery,” Kilyconye explains in a conversation over email. “I’d say they were most definitely self-portraits, although there is another character in some of the photos which I’ve figured is a mannequin.” One thing that seems certain is that they would’ve been developed in a home darkroom, and – given the laws and mores of the day – Kilcoyne says “it’s highly likely they would have been tried for gross indecency had they used a local photo developer.” On the whole, though, the images offer more questions than they answer.”

Augenblick Press – a publishing house dedicated to preserving and immortalising found photography – is Kilcoyne’s ongoing project. “The name ‘Augenblick’ is a German word which came from a Rheingold record,” Kilcoyne explains. “It literally translates to ‘eye moment’, denoting a moment in time – an Augenblick. I wanted to make a regular publication that married anomalous time periods and found abstract connections to encourage new stories.”

Identifying clues as to the particular story behind Rain Time, he says: “Living with these images over the last few months, I think there is an ageless quality to the archive. They seem to live in a domestic chasm which belongs entirely to the subject, indulging fully in their fantasy … an interior world of deep-sea submersion.” 

Kilcoyne named the exhibition Rain Time after a mackintosh and rubber catalogue that accompanied the photography. He believes the booklet was made by John Sutcliffe, a remarkable and influential fashion designer and fetish photographer whose restrictive clothing, leather and rubber wear lent the punk movement a crucial aspect of its distinctive aesthetic. The exhibition programme also includes a screening of the 1977 documentary Dressing For Pleasure by John Samson. Named after one of Sutcliffe’s magazines, the film shines a light on the decade’s rubber fetishists and documents the intersection of rubber and fashion; look out for cameos by Vivienne Westwood, Malcolm McLaren, the Sex Pistols, and Jordan Mooney among more.

Talking with Kilcoyne about his impressions of the mysterious photographs, he says, “Without a doubt, it’s a form of aquaphilia … but I think what separates these images is the fact that they aren’t explicitly sexual. They become something between the science fiction of Jules Verne and the films of Frans Zwartjes.” Here lies the unique charm of this extraordinary archive. “A lot of the photography pumped out of Soho and sex shops around Europe and the States was intended to fulfil a sexual fantasy for an audience, whereas these images have a humour and darkness which strike a fascinating counterbalance.” We’ll likely never know who created these pictures, but Kilcoyne concludes, “There was undoubtedly a really charismatic character and a talented collage artist behind the camera.”  

Rain Time by Augenblick Press is on show at London’s Horse Hospital until November 17, 2022.