Following the mag’s official closure announcement last week, I thought I’d follow picture editor/photographer Tom Broadbent in picking my favourite features that I worked on for Bizarre Magazine, across nearly 10 years of being a freelance-cum-in-house contributor.
One of the harshest criticisms being levelled at this great mag is that ‘it had been going downhill for years’. While I’m careful not to say anything out of turn, the mag had far more staff and waaaay bigger budgets back in its heyday. But the team behind it were always a bunch of wacky, super-talented weirdoes slapping their proverbials right to the grindstone, and the quality features were always still evident for me.
I read some great pieces by excellent writers on voodoo exorcism, the biker who cannibalised his own severed digits, the woman with two vaginas, Mexico’s Angel of Death (Santa Muerte), the man who found his long-lost bearded mummy, the Mexican mummy museum, and in the final issue, the man who turned his amputated leg into a lamp (which incidentally is up for sale if anyone fancies a cute showpiece for the lounge).
From a personal perspective, I’m also very proud of some of the things I was able to write for Bizarre. Many of these were borne off the back of some highly memorable and ‘bizarre’ days, including the visit to Matron’s ‘Colonic Clinic’ and a day spent getting my butt-kicked at a mixed wrestling studio (while humiliatingly adorning a Hulkamania vest, which my scrawny arms were too feeble to rip).
If I had to pick a handful of my favourites that I personally worked on, it would – at a push – probably be these…
1) THE WOMAN WHO MARRIED THE BERLIN WALL
I was freelancing on the website when I stumbled across the personal site belonging to a Swedish woman who claimed to have married the Berlin Wall in a personal ceremony in 1979, subsequently adopting the married name Wall Winther. Known as an ‘objectum-sexual’ (OS), Wall Winther saw inanimate objects as living beings, and felt an especially strong spiritual and sexual attraction to fences, buildings and guillotines. This wasn’t a fetish, it was a bona-fide sexuality.
I literally spent the next six months finding and gaining the trust of several objectum-sexuals, mostly through forums, including Wall Winther herself (a very lovely and warm lady, I hasten to add), and an American athlete who attributed her sporting success to the relationship she had with her equipment.
After I wrote this article, the subject of ‘objectum sexuality’ literally exploded. There was a major TV documentary produced (I can’t remember if it aired on BBC2 or Channel 4), while Wall Winther’s tale was eagerly reported on across the national media and tabloids. My mum said she even heard it mentioned on an episode of Have I Got News For You. Finding and breaking this tale to the UK still ranks as a journalistic high.
See the full feature here
I pick this not for my words (which were nothing to write home about), but for the phenomenal photography of Michael Loewa. Loewa was commissioned to photograph a German stuntman/fire technician who had a genuine sexual passion for setting himself (and girlfriend) on fire while wearing a wide range of flammable costumes that he had tailored himself. It was a wild, sexual subject, and the stories of a few of the fire fetishists I spoke with seemed pretty ‘out there’ – even if their practices are something definitely NEVER to be tried at home or without qualified supervision.
Full feature here: (WARNING MALE NUDITY: 18+ ONLY)
3) THE JAPANESE CORPSE PHOTOGRAPHER TSURISAKI KIYOTOKA
Tsurisaki Kiyotoka had appeared in the magazine a few years earlier, but I was lucky enough to interview him again in 2013 following the publication of his career ‘best of’ book, simply entitled DEATH. Tsurisaki essentially went round the trouble spots of the world, photographing murder scenes and accidents, often beating emergency services to the grisly aftermath. However, despite the gruelling compositions, Tsurisaki’s images were shot with a careful artistry, and rather than viewing his work as ‘sick’ and gratuitous, Tsurisaki said his passion was fuelled from a pursuit of the ‘ultimate’ – the beauty of death. As I wrote in my previous blog, Tsurisaki encapsulated everything that Bizarre was to me – his work was utterly edgy, provocative and disturbing, but it also had genuine purpose behind it, and it was brave and honest, never shirking from the truth, no matter how uncomfortable that truth happened to be.
See the full feature here http://www.stephendaultrey.com/article.php?lifestyle=Japanese-corpse (WARNING: VERY GRAPHIC CONTENT)
4) BELLY INFLATION
I remember when the Bizarre ed. asked if I was interested in becoming a principle ‘sexuality writer’, given I seemed to have accrued a talent for writing about leftfield kinks in an understanding, sensitive manner. I’d written about plenty of fetishes, but stomach inflation (or more to the point, colon inflation) was certainly one of the more extreme. We commissioned a photo shoot with an inflationist in America, who had been posting home-made videos on YouTube where he used aquarium pumps to inflate his belly. Suffice to say, what came back was pretty eye-opening and eye-watering. We definitely had to include a doctor’s warning with this feature!
5) SCHOOL ROLEPLAYERS
(photo: Jim Plimmer)
Sure, this feature did have a pretty jokey, comical tone on the surface, and I did get to dress up as a schoolboy and visit a very private 1950-style reform school on the Welsh border, overseen by the strictarian (but very playful) Miss Prim. We had English class. We had playtime in the backyard. I put fake tan on my legs because I was overly self-conscious about my pasty legs being printed in a national mag. And, against my wishes, I got spanked. There was one photo of me, mid-spank, where the motion had created an unsightly ripple in my bare bum, making my backside appear horribly deformed. Our art director thought it was brilliant but being a rotten spoilsport I convinced him not to print it. The actual subject though – that some of these ardent roleplayers, many of whom were in their 40s and 50s, often lost themselves in the mindset of a kid for a whole week on boarding school trips – was fascinating. And yeah, that’s me in the main pic with the cap and cheeky tongue-pokey-outy-face.
6) ALTERNATIVE CHRISTIANITY
Given religion’s potent minefield qualities, I really enjoyed doing this feature about an outsider group of goths, metal-heads, fetishists and punks, who meet every Sunday in a heavy metal pub to worship Jesus Christ, promote love and discuss topical issues with a spiritual slant. That their ‘anti-organised-religion’ group is also welcoming to atheists, pagans and even Satanists, made it a thought-provoking, powerful, and really quite warming piece that generated considerable reader response. The subject may not have been inherently weird in itself, but the people involved were awesome, and its topic certainly caused much debate – and ultimately isn’t that what investigative journalism should be about?