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Eros Zine : R.C. Hörsch

By Thomas S. Roche

© 2007 by Eros-Zine (Reproduced with permission.)

An interview.


R.C. Hörsch's work ranges across the erotic spectrum; in fact, he takes great pleasure in observing the place where so-called art becomes so-called trash in the estimation of viewers. 

His agent and publisher, Stanley Stokowski, observes that "If pornography can be defined as images or prose designed for arousal, then much of his work is clearly not pornographic in the sense that (hopefully) few people are sexually aroused by images of violence, dead bodies and grotesquely wasted heroin addicts. 

"But, on the other hand, the fact that the images are sexually graphic in the extreme makes them unsuitable to the 'legitimate' art world. The end result is that much of RC's work has no venue: it is rejected as both pornography and art." 

Similarly, Hörsch's stated quest is "to capture unadorned 'essence' or soul in the primitive sense," with the result that even his most disturbing images have an erotic rawness. We caught up with Hörsch to talk about these aspects of his work and what drives him to create photographic portraits.
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Eros Zine: The galleries on your site are divided into such as "Pretty," "Edgy," "Dark Sex," and "Slaves." Is there one artistic mood that you feel most intensely reflects your interests? Or are they all different aspects of your artistic personality? 

R.C. Hörsch: In 1993, I had the honor to be the very last show ever presented at the famous Neikrug Gallery in New York. I hadn't exhibited in over twenty years and the art community was even less familiar with my work then than it is now. Anyway, it was a one-man show with about fifty pieces and a critic from the Village Voice insisted on meeting the "other" photographers. The point being that he thought it was a group show; ostensibly because of the somewhat diverse nature of the images. 

Not much has changed over the years. I am still a curator's nightmare. The best attempt to impose order on my issue was the 2002 "To the Prurient Interest" exhibition that arranged almost two hundred works in descending order of perversity or "prurient" interest. The idea was for the individual viewer to decide for himself when the stream of images crossed their personal comfort point from (presumably) art to pornography. 

The most recent attempt has been Luis De La Cruz's "Body and Mind" selection that was designed to be representative yet "exhibitable" to a more general audience. This selection is what has been shown by the XArt Foundation in Europe and at the two recent LA Erotica shows. However, Clayton Campbell, writing for London's "Contemporary" Magazine opined that even this selection was "in need of a curator" or some more unifying theme. 

I guess the point that I am trying to make is that my artistic issue seems to be whatever I am feeling or into at a given moment. While I go through definite periods and themes, I also suffer(?) from an extremely short attention span. I constantly bounce between a large number of unfinished projects. I am currently working on four feature length films, various music pieces, three books, a constant stream of still images and a new eighteen year old slave. Luckily, however, distractions tend to come full circle and sometimes I actually get things done! 

But I still haven't actually answered your question, have I? I think the answer should be "yes." -- all are different aspects. 

Eros Zine: As an artist, though -- taking your work totally out of preconceived societal notions and just working from the experience of creating it -- is there a point you cross where you have a physical or visceral or sexual reaction to the work, where it becomes "prurient" or physically affecting for you, the artist? In other words, is there a point at which you get physically turned on, and if so does that change the nature of the work?" 

R.C. Hörsch: The adage about a man's brain being in the tip of his cock is doubly true with me! In fact, I would say that just about everything that I do at least begins with a "…a physical or visceral or sexual reaction…"

It's really all about extremes, about finding and pushing limits -and not always in a good way. My motivation goes beyond desire and well into the realm of obsession. In this respect, I am very much addicted to sex. And the more I do and the more I experience, the more jaded I become and the greater the stimulation (and extreme) I require. This is an obvious parallel to heroin addiction! 

However, my past experience as an air show pilot and occasional stuntman has taught me that people who seek out dangerous extremes do so for totally life affirming reasons. They most certainly do not have a "death" wish! Quite the contrary, the closer they can approach death and still survive, the more alive they feel. My goal in both my life and my art is similar: I want to experience the extreme in everything that I do. 

So, in answer to your question, the likelihood is that if I did not get physically, sexually turned on by whatever I am doing I probably wouldn't be doing it! 

Eros Zine: Does the darker material ("Vampires," "Heroin," "To Hell") hold a greater attraction for you, or is it just one way to see things? 

R.C. Hörsch: Absolute attraction. Total obsession. To the point of pathology. 

I suppose that my fascination with the darker aspects of humanity began at a very, very early age and has since become a raging obsession. I seek out the so-called darkness and I find it everywhere, especially within myself. I think that I used to pretend that I was some sort of anthropologist studying the perverts, degenerates, whores and addicts. Aloof. Observing from a distance. Taking notes. But I realized long ago that I was one of them. And the deeper I go, the more I learn about myself. 

I find all of these subjects both compelling and repulsive. Like watching the proverbial train wreck. And it is my artistic mission, I suppose, to confront viewers with this ambivalence and, ideally, to have them learn something about themselves. Maybe something they would not really want to know? 

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Eros Zine: Is there a particular sexual interest in that darkness? Is the thrill that many people get from being naughty or kinky reflected in the attraction you feel toward vampires, heroin, etc, or is it something else entirely?" 

R.C. Hörsch: Again, this goes toward extremes. And yes, there is a particular and very definite sexual interest in the darkness. 

However, my attraction toward vampirism is simply that it is an interesting fetish. More interesting are associations of sex with hypoxia, masochism, sadism, degradation, scatology, exhibitionism… in fact, the association of sex with just about any aspect of life! And, of course, the more extreme or verboten, the better! Heroin addiction, in this respect, is something that profoundly affects the lives of the people involved and, very often, sex becomes a very dark aspect when a women trades every part of her mental and physical being for the drug. Another extreme! 

Then there are extreme ideas. Consider an image of a beautiful, naked, sleeping woman, perhaps with her legs innocently but provocatively and invitingly spread. Peaceful. Serene. Surely arousing! But add to that same unchanged image the knowledge that the woman will never wake up! Would it be personally disturbing to find that your previous arousal didn't immediately dissipate? Or that it actually increased? 

With me, on top of all this, is the completely compulsive need to create. I am a sexually obsessed artist not because I want to but because but because I have no choice. 

Whatever the motivation, it is not about being "naughty" or kinky. In my conceited mind, I like to think that I am quite past all that! 

Eros Zine: Your series "Vampires" takes on both the taboo and the eroticism of blood. Were you always interested in this topic, or is it something that came as a reflection on other projects, or on your models' interests? How was it to find models who were interested in exploring this theme? 

R.C. Hörsch: Vampirism is simply a fetish. An affectation. Like stiletto heels or stockings with a seam up the back. People pretend to be vampires. It's mostly just a dress-up party game. 

That is unless you have actually tasted human blood! I was introduced by a slave who wished to give me a gift -- something that literally was a part of her being. She made a small incision in a vein in her wrist and offered it to me. It was warm, sticky and strangely sweet -- an extremely strange and strangely powerful experience. 

So, it has nothing to do with the rather silly legends about immortality, fangs and gothic architecture --but it has a great deal to do with sexuality. And as risky as exchanging blood most certainly is in this era of HIV and AIDS, it is one of the most erotic, arousing and intimate things that lovers can possibly do. (Insert the do-not-try-this-at-home disclaimer here!) 

Eros Zine: Your series "Heroin" shows beautiful young women in the context of heroin use or addiction. How did you come to make this series? Was there heroin in your life that inspired you to explore the theme visually through art? Are the women featured in the photographs users? Were you intending to use eroticism to illuminate the use of the drug (and dependence to it), or is the nudity in "Heroin" more a reflection of the stark nakedness (the "Naked Lunch," I suppose) of being exposed through addiction? 

R.C. Hörsch: Heroin addiction is a truly evil and horrible thing. Heroin must be an addict's only love, only master. Ultimately, there is no other way. I have documented (if that is the word) many addicted women as they are consumed. Surely they are sexy at first because heroin is compellingly seductive. But exactly when does it stop being erotic? At some point it surely does. The women are naked primarily for the unadorned, stark reality of it. And also, of course, for the verboten eroticism and sexuality. I think that most of my images are like that (naked and unadorned) because, for me, clothing and props obscure the person that I am photographing. 

The series began with a woman with whom I had a relationship who was also an addict. I was näive and didn't immediately realize what was going on. But eventually I became fascinated by the lengths to which she would go for her drug. Eventually, like most of my obsessions, it became an intensely psycho-sexual investigation that continued for over five years and ended with a series of truly horrible images of Jane Doe corpses made just before they were cremated. Young women. All overdose victims. All very dead. 

No one will ever exhibit these images, of course. But maybe they should. I cannot imagine a more compelling anti-drug message. 

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 Eros Zine: How erotic do you want to make these darker images? In the darker works, are you intentionally trying to evoke mingled reactions of horror and attraction in the viewer? 

R.C. Hörsch: Yes! It's really all about conflicted emotions and exploration. 

However, images (films and whatever) containing naked people and/or sexual depictions or references are virtually always assumed to have the sole purpose of eliciting arousal. Similarly, anything dark or bloody or violent or macabre is usually assumed to be exclusively purposed towards shocking the viewer. Unfortunately, a lot of my work doesn't fit neatly into either category and this causes a lot of confusion. 

So, are my heroin images, for example, supposed to sexually arouse the viewer? Are they erotic? Or are they supposed to just shock and titillate? My complaint, lament (or arrogant pretention) is that my work in this area should be viewed and judged differently, in more depth and with more options. 

My goal or purpose is usually to show or at least illuminate the why much more than the what. And in doing so cause the viewer to think and consider and examine. And most of all to see the person underlying the situation or event being pictured . 

The woman in the attached image is named Victoria. She was only twenty four years old. She was tall, lanky and when she walked down the street in hip hugger jeans, heels and a tiny tube top with her waist-long dark curly hair flowing in the breeze and her tiny round ass swiveling seductively, men (and women) would walk into walls looking at her. She was also smart and funny and a simply wonderful, nice person. 

The image you see is what is left of her after six months of pesticide cut heroin, massive shots of injected cocaine (mostly in her neck) and countless unwashed cocks in cars and alleys and ten-dollar-an-hour hotel rooms. 

What was in my mind when I made the image? What was my intention? What was my purpose? Was I trying to arouse you? Or shock you? And why would any of my motives matter in the least? 

The image exists unto itself. I am out of the loop and no longer part of the equation. What is left is only the image and you. Make of it what you will. React in your personal, unique way. Love it or hate it. Be enlightened or offended. Whatever. 

As for me, I am content and fulfilled if you simply choose not ignore it. 

Eros Zine: "Slaves" is something of an underground legend, described as a showcase of women enslaved. What can you tell us about this series and its accompanying documentary? What has the reaction been like to this challenging work? 

R.C. Hörsch: Slaves is perhaps the best example of the "curator" or classification problem! 

It was first promoted to people in the BDSM "scene" -- which seemed natural because it was about slave-master and sado-masochist relationships. However, many BDSM people were horribly offended because it did not follow the carefully constructed, politically correct "consensual safe word" paradigm. On the other side, nobody in porn has ever paid much attention to it. AVN flatly refused to review it and distributors unanimously refuse it on the grounds of its intense combinations of extreme violence and extreme sex. 

The film simply isn't about "Saturday night parlor game BDSM" and it also surely isn't pornography if pornography is defined as material "designed for arousal." What it really is is a relatively deep psychological study of extreme relationships. 

Behavioral psychologist Naomi X. Harris probably describes it best: The film Slaves, about the presumably dysfunctional lifestyle of R. C. Hörsch, is the most amazing, disturbing and intense documentary I have ever seen! But even more disturbing than the film's explicit portrayal of artist R. C. Hörsch's emotionally and sexually abusive relationship with seven women (the "slaves" of the title) is the haunting and frightening parallels it evokes with our so-called normal world.

The metaphors raised in the film pointedly map the presumably pathological (or at the very least, politically incorrect) world of sadomasochism, bondage and sexual slavery onto our everyday lives and institutions - including our personal relationships, corporations, the military and even religion. Everywhere in society, Hörsch notes, there is a power structure, a pecking order, an inescapable master-slave relationship. 

Hörsch's "slaves" endure all forms of degradation, abuse and pain, each for her own personal reason. One for the security and comfort of slavery. Another craves the intensity of pain. Another needs punishment and atonement for real or imagined sins. Another, like Hörsch himself, simply needs a continual adrenaline rush. But each - and this is the most unsettling point of all - endures her abuse willingly and of her own volition because each carries with her the key to her own shackles and her cell door is never locked! She could leave at any time she may wish to do so - but chooses not to! Luckily, over the past four years, the film has gained an audience and more and more people are able to view it without either the porn or BDSM pre-conceptions. 

This is not true of much of my other film work! 

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Eros Zine: I've noticed a real rejection in the BDSM community of art that depicts rape or other edgy or non-consensual or for that matter semi-consensual behavior, even though when you talk to most BDSM people about what they're into the biggest unifier is the idea of force or resistance or unwillingness. Why do you think the BDSM community was in some ways hostile to "Slaves"?

R.C. Hörsch: There is a poignant scene in Slaves in which Lorelei has me beat her -- savagely -- at her behest and direction. She not only asks for, but demands each blow -again and again- to the point that it is my character who can no longer go on. In this scene the roles of abuser and abused, victim and villain are thoroughly blurred and reversed. In the film, as in life, Lorelei not only likes but craves pain. And she is rational, lucid, intelligent and not under the influence of any drugs. 

I once performed a similar beating for her in front of a presumably seasoned BDSM group who were horrified and thoroughly upset by the very real screams, whimpers, tears, welts, bruises and blood. Lorelei is a genuine masochist, not a pretend one. And I am a genuine sadist. 

So, I think you nailed it when alluded to the dichotomy in the BDSM community. 

In a way, the public stance is, I suppose, necessary form a practical standpoint because the fundamental idea of BDSM is quite beyond mainstream comprehension. But within the community, there is a pronounced intolerance of anyone who thinks or does anything differently. This is exactly the universal intolerance that preaches that everyone must be forced to think and act the way that they or their clan or tribe happen to think and act. Here, I will only observe that absolutely nothing creative, worthwhile, new, innovative, useful nor in any way important ever came from a "politically correct" mind. 

The vast majority of the BDSM community approach what they do as a fetish -something they do once in a while to get off or simply because they enjoy it or find the concepts interesting. I categorize this as "Saturday night BDSM" and there is absolutely nothing wrong, in my mind, with such play and kink . 

But this is very, very different than what I do! With me and my women, it is a total immersion lifestyle. With us there are no safe words. There are no limits other than what I decide at a given point in time. The decision about whether a woman is punished is mine, not hers. The decision about how much pain, how much degradation (and conversely, how much love and nurturing and pleasure and compassion) is totally mine. Obedience is total, immediate and complete. None of my women are permitted to use the word "no" with me, except once -after which they must leave forever. However, all of my women possess or are given the physical and financial means to leave at any time they may wish to do so. All of my women are with me and obey me because they choose to do so. All of them are intelligent and accomplished. And many of them leave after a period of time when they feel that they should move on. 

The issues and motivations involved are relatively complicated or, at least, not what they might seem. If I can be permitted an obviously self-serving suggestion, Slaves is all about these ostensibly abusive and dysfunctional relationships and anyone who is curious should certainly watch it. Visit for more information. 

My artwork also attempts to illuminate these essentially non-intuitive ideas. And all I would ask is for people to think about what is really going on -and more importantly to think about the parallels with the so-called "real" world- before dismissing or condemning. 

Eros Zine: You mentioned some of your other film work; can you tell us about it? 

R.C. Hörsch: "The Erotic Memoirs of a Male Chauvinist Pig" (1973) was a very dark comedy. Totally pornographic, it was released in mainstream theaters (this was before VHS!) and actually rose to within the "Top 40" Billboard film listings! It is un-releasable today because it contains (among other taboos) pedophilia, rape, violence and urination --all associated with very explicit, hard core sex. In fact, in what must be my most cherished "critical" review, Al Goldstein, said that: "…the sex in Male Chauvinist Pig is disgusting!" (Screw Magazine,1973) 

Also on the shelf is a film entitled "Snuff!" The premise is that a very disturbed serial killer photographs himself with his victim in a room with multiple cameras and monitors and that the resulting tapes are subsequently discovered in the trash in a landfill. The film was made on a totally experimental basis by myself and a very talented collaborator (also in the Slaves film), Lorelei. We set up the cameras, got totally into character and proceeded to film. The result is an incredibly intense, haunting psychological study of a psychopath and his victim. However, it also contains violence, murder and, ultimately, necrophilia. So far, the only distributor is in Holland. 

Lastly, I have been working on my current project, "Prey" for almost three years now. It simply continues my dark obsessions and goes further and deeper into the extremes of sexual human behavior. The theme (or subtitle) is "The artist as killer… Killing as art" and what happens is very far from what you might expect. Any distributors out there? 

I'm not complaining! I like what I do! Really! There are probably worse things than spending long hours photographing, abusing and fucking beautiful women. And although I would really, really like my work to be more accessible, I mostly do it for myself and would continue to do so even if nobody ever saw any of it. To me, the whole "art" thing is really about creating and exploring my own very twisted, dark mind! 

One note on the bright side… A documentary that I made starring Nina Hartley about "…Creative, Accomplished, Intelligent Women; Feminism; Free Expression; Sex; and Pornography" will be released by Luis De La Cruz and the XArt Foundation very early next year. It is NOT a sex film although it is extremely politically incorrect. 

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Eros Zine: Given the subject matter of those projects, do you feel any affinity to horror film? Particularly European (Italian springs to mind) horror film or Giallo? Or do you feel you're working in a different idiom than horror filmmakers? 

R.C. Hörsch: I feel absolutely no affinity with horror films per se. I feel no affinity whatsoever for the idiom. And I see no parallel with what I do. "Snuff" (and "Prey"), although graphically depicting extreme sex and violence, are almost entirely about the why. Very much the same thing with Slaves. 

To me simply seeing people fucking is pornography. Showing why could possibly be art. The fact that a character in a film kills another is basically trite and ultimately boring. What is much more interesting is perhaps the motivation. Have you ever wondered what a villain was thinking? About why he is able or anxious or compelled to do evil? Or whether he enjoys it? Is he simply a bad person? Does he view himself as a bad person? Did Pol Pot personally know what a horrible monster he was? Did Adolf Hitler? Does George Bush know that he is fundamentally evil? And comically stupid? 

Actually, I feel no affinity with just about anyone or anything. When I look at myself, I see much more the Neanderthal than the homo sapiens. In a fundamental sense, I am not entirely sure that I am human. I am not entirely sure that I would even want to be considered human. And I seriously doubt that humans would want to consider me one of them. 

All of the above is admittedly more than a little pretentious and egotistical but, hell, comes with the territory! 

Eros Zine: Tell me about "Creative, Accomplished, Intelligent Women" -- how did it come about? How did Nina Hartley get involved in the project? when you say it's politically incorrect, what do you mean exactly? Will "Accomplished" be released in theaters? On DVD? 

R.C. Hörsch: The film was made because I had to make it. I got totally incensed with the schizoid feminist right claiming on one hand to support women's rights while on the other hand saying (essentially) that individual women were too stupid to make decisions concerning sex, pornography, what they could or should read or watch, their own bodies, reproduction and how they might choose to make a living. 

This film is about the other side of feminism! What it contains is absolutely astonishing in both clarity and reason. Here is a tidbit, an observation by Nadine Strossen, president of the ALCU: "…countries that have free and uncensored access to pornography, such as Scandinavia, have the lowest rates of violence toward women while countries where it is illegal, or even a capital offense, such as the Middle East, have the highest." 

It is a feature length, High Definition film and will certainly be available should any theater or other media outlet choose to show it. It will definitely be available on DVD and it will also be available as an online download through Eroto~ and hopefully other sites. As much as possible, I do not intend to make any money from the film nor even to recoup production and distribution cost. I simply want it to be distributed as widely as possible. I intend that the film be given away with the suggestion that a contribution be made to the XArt Foundation, the Free Speech Coalition or any other First Amendment advocate. Visit for updates and release information. 

Eros Zine: Thanks, R.C.!

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