Bound and Gagged

Interview with Bondage Photographer/Rigger

Hywel Phillips


Interview by Lorelei

Where's your website, so we can go take a look?

Restrained Elegance  is my baby- my blog is the members' home page.  Evil Magician is my other pet project (imagine a magic show with bondage and gorgeous nude assistants being sawn in half....)

You're one of the most famous bondagers in terms of the quality of the photography. Did you study photography or videography formally, or were you self-taught?

Completely self taught. By training I am a scientist- my first degree was in Physics with Electronics and my Ph.D. was in Particle Physics, neither of which immediately spring to mind as preparation for a career as a bondage photographer!

Photography had been a hobby from a very early age, although my first brush with a camera wasn't very pleasant- my father had an old box camera with a glass plate back. I wanted to get something from a shelf where things had carefully been placed out of my reach, so I stood on the camera box... crash, tinkle, trip to hospital, stitches in my foot, still got the scar!

I got my first camera on a family trip to the zoo when I was maybe eight years old. It took black and white roll film, and my father took me into work with him to develop and print the photos (he was a University lecturer in Electrical Engineering and the department had its own darkroom). If I was a really hard-core old school photographer I would say that I was hooked, learnt all the tricks of the darkroom trade... but that would be a total lie. It was a bit of fun but I think I was disappointed in the results, the darkroom was smelly and the chemicals gave me a headache. The photos were a bit fuzzy and I wanted photos which were crisp and sharp like photos in magazines. I haven't changed at all.

I took up photography more seriously in my late teens. I had to do a geography project for my exams and I wanted to do it "for real" rather than following one of the school's suggestions (Damn. I really haven't changed at all.) So I borrowed a Pentax K1000 from my long-suffering Dad's department and got him to drive me on a tour of the Neath valley. I took photos of features which I thought I could explain (like waterfalls and hanging valleys). My teacher was very impressed because it was a genuine attempt to look at the landscape and figure out how it had got that way. Unlike with the toy camera, I liked the photos because they were crisp and sharp.

So from there I was hooked. I got my own Pentax for my 18th birthday, and took photos of everything but mostly landscapes, especially after I got seriously into mountaineering at University, led onwards and upwards by my soon-to-be-wife. I played around with various different cameras, notoriously unsatisfied with the image quality but unable to go for medium format kit (too heavy and too slow to lug up mountains, especially when your wife is already a hundred meters ahead of you and waiting for you impatiently!) I've attached a few mountain photos.

That's basically where my photography rested for the next ten years: slide film, 35 mm cameras, landscape photos.

Did I have any practical use for the photos? Yes, sort-of. I've been into roleplaying games (the Dungeons and Dragons sort) for years and at the time I was writing grand sprawling baroque fantasy epics for my friends. When I had a game which centered around standing stones as places of power, I went on a field trip with my camera and shot photos of as many as I could- then when it came up in the game I had a slide projector to show them what their characters could see. I used to put a huge amount effort into telling the stories in my head this way- these days I use the same set of mental muscles to do photoshoots!

So were my degrees totally useless? Far from it. When I finally took up photography professionally, the world was just making the transition to digital imaging. With my particle physics and electronics background I understood at a very deep level every bit of a camera, from the optics of the lenses through to the way a CCD or CMOS sensor works. I had also worked at CERN where the world wide web was invented (and which was very close to the mountains!) so I was completely up to speed on developing websites before most of the world had even heard of it.
How did you happen to get into doing bondage and fetish work?

Bear with me, that is a parallel story which also starts in childhood.  It does make sense but it doesn't meet up with the photography thread for about 25 years!

I've been into bondage as long as I can remember. Seriously, I can remember having bondage fantasies in nursery school. The lone ranger trying to rescue the tied-up damsel from the mines (with hissing sticks of dynamite)... oh yeh. That rung a bell. Didn't know what at the time, but I knew what I liked and that was it! I can't have been more than four years old.

For some reason, I kept this fairly quiet. I couldn't tell you why, except that I guess it was on a par with the hardcore porno magazines surreptitiously passed around in school. I was famous for being the sixth-form softcore porn specialist:
I liked photos of beautiful women looking elegant and gorgeous (OK and sometimes naked and always barefoot-
go figure). Gynaecological photos didn't do anything for me then and I they don't do anything for me now. So while
I was totally open about liking photos of pretty girls all over my walls, I didn't have bondage photos on my walls. Not that I had any bondage photos.

My early sources of bondage were a very occasional illustration or photo from mainstream publications, a few books, and an awful lot of collage which I made myself, cutting out a photo from a magazine and putting the girl into all sorts of deathtraps and dungeons. A Dutch bondage magazine purloined on holiday was about my only genuine bondage photos. When I went to University I was free to explore more- no web in those days, so it was the small ads for custom photosets in the back of photography magazines. I ordered a few sets- the quality was mostly awful but one or two photos worked, and reinforced what I liked- gorgeous barefoot girls in bondage, being punished or tortured but still looking elegant and perfect.

Looking back, I can't imagine why I didn't put two and two together and go hire a model and shoot my own bondage photos. I guess I had come at it originally more from a damsel in distress angle, so it was more about torture and deathtraps at the time? Dunno. I got into painting and drawing- sometimes mountains, sometimes people in the mountains, sometimes fantasy characters and scenes for my roleplaying games. I managed to teach myself the rudiments of art though it never quite flowed- I had these incredibly strong, vivid images in my head and I really tried to get them down on paper, but there was no "undo" button with an airbrush and I was usually disappointed with the end results.
When I drew pretty women (which I usually did) I drew them based on references from my still-extensive softcore porn
collection. I'm not talented enough to be able to draw a person without detailed references. I used to try doing improved version of my bondage collages but it never really worked.

The next step was the computer revolution: bondage photos on the web and computer generated artwork. On a very dull day in the shift control room on the experiment where I was doing my Ph.D., some other disreputable student type introduced me to Usenet. The second or third photo I ever saw was one of Felix Dartmouth's photos of Dana: this one

I was smitten. That's still one of my favourite bondage images. Her eyes, her dress, the understated bondage.. loved it.
I became an avid collector of bondage images and joined a lot of the early bondage websites (with Felix's site, Shortfuse and Bondage By Request as my main inspirations).

I was starting to work elements of the photos into my artwork:  Dana is in the "Air" picture and another of Felix's models, Mina, is in the "Fire" picture. The rest are computer generated (I love the "Undo" button!) It was actually doing the computer generated artwork with Bryce and Poser that taught me the basics of lighting because you have to light your scene with virtual light sources just the same way as you light a real scene. There are some things you can only do in a computer (like put lights right in front of the camera without seeing them) but there are also some things you can't do on a computer, at least not with the cheap software (like have extended soft lightsources to even out shadows and make light "wrap and drape" around the female form).

The penultimate step in becoming a bondage photographer was that I started to draw pencil-and-paper portraits. I started with friends, then did some portraits of my favourite bondage models (starting with Sara Nychols- hi Sara!) I  liked them, and I sent some to the models and they liked them, and I nervously asked the photographers whose work I was ripping off by drawing portraits based on their photos... and they liked them. Aha!  A career as a bondage artist beckoning?

Not really. I'm not that good an artist, and I felt I was copying other people's work. Aha! I know... I'll take some of my OWN photos of bondage models, then I'll be able to draw portraits without ripping people off!

The first bondage model I photographed was Molly Matthews when I was out in California for a conference. I didn't tie her up- just had lunch and took some smiley snapshots. I'd been a big fan because she did a lot of barefoot bondage and foot punishment. Even then, the idea of actually doing a BONDAGE shoot with her didn't really cross my mind. Strange! The pencil and paper portrait of her is based on one of my own photos.

Anyway, even I had started to realise that maybe I wanted to take bondage photos, although I was still imagining that I would draw from them rather than regard them as finished art in their own right.

Sara Nychols
Sara Nychols
Molly Matthews
Ashley Renee
Nichole Sheridan

Andrea Neal

Andrea Neal
Andrea Neal
What was your first bondage shoot like? Do any memories about it stand out?

I'll cheat and answer this one three times. Obviously I twisted my wife's arm to model for me, but she is not so much camera shy as camera-phobic and she was only too happy when I sodded off and found some poor model to put in front of the scary lights and scary camera.

My first real bondage shoot was with a couple who had just opened a bondage website in the UK. It was the first I'd heard of, and I was very keen to work with them because they were local, Michelle the model obviously didn't mind being tied up although her partner Dan was going to do that on the day. Plus the photography on the site wasn't anything special: I felt I could do at least as good a job as a camera on a self timer!

Michelle photos by Hywel:  1 2 3 4 5 6

I loved the shots! I proudly posted them to various places, most especially the Bondage Photographers Yahoo group. Several bondage photographers were kind enough to take the time to give some constructive criticism (many thanks in particular to Phil Carson for comments on lighting).

But I still hadn't done the tying up myself, so I'd only gone half way. Plus something Dan said really struck a chord with me. He said what he liked in bondage photographs was the submissive's situation: how she was tied, the predicament she was in. He didn't want to focus on her at all, just on her situation.

I realised that was exactly and precisely the complete opposite of what I wanted to shoot. Damn it, I didn't want to tie up any old person off the street, I wanted to tie up ANDREA NEAL or ASHLEY RENEE or KYLIE MINOGUE (two out of three ain't bad- my dream shoot is still a two girl bondage shoot with Kylie & Danii Mingoue! :-)

So the next step was to find a professional UK model who did bondage work, worked at a studio near me, who would let a clueless dweeb like me tie her up and take photos. Fortunately I struck gold with Nikki.

I wanted to shoot two different looks, two different sides of her:  Saint and Sinner. I didn't know where to buy bondage gear, so I had some rope and chain from the local DIY store and some leather cuffs which I made myself.

Nikki photos by Hywel:  1 2 3 4 5

I loved the results even more. I did a few drawings based on them, but I rapidly realised that I preferred the photos. It had only taken me some twenty five or so years to put the photography and the bondage together!

The rest is history. I opened a paysite to pay for the photoshoots, and it took off beyond my wildest dreams. Two years later I quit my scientific career and went full-time as a bondage photographer

What's a typical bondage shoot like?

It used to be hell because I used to shoot everything in my house!  So I used to have to start at 6 am to convert our living room into a photo studio. I got myself a proper photostudio last September, so now it is a bit more relaxed.

Since most of the models have a bit of a drive to get here, I usually start the shoot around 12 noon, which gives me time to wake up, check my email, drive over to the studio via the supermarket to make sure we have enough food for lunch. I'll arrive at the studio at about 9:30 and start setting up the sets I want to shoot. Ang, my makeup artist, usually arrives a little before the model so we can chat about what we are going to do. One of the biggest improvements in my photos in recent times has been hooking up with a really good makeup artist- Ang is never phased by me saying "I know, let's turn her into a snake because she's been bitten by the deadly viper!". Forty minutes later, the model is a snake girl!

The model or models arrive around 12, get made up. We shoot a quick set or two before lunch, usually quite easy stuff if it is her first time in bondage (I work with a lot of glamour models who haven't done much bondage before so I like to be gentle with them to start off). Lunch is good for breaking the ice and chatting about what we are going to shoot for the rest of the day. I used to do elaborate detailed shoot plans for every shoot- I'm sad to say that I don't seem to find the time to do that as often as I should these days. Then it is crack on with the shoot, shooting about one set an hour, wrapping up at 6 pm with about six sets in the bag. Sign the forms, take ID, pay the wages and away we go.

Back home, it is straight onto the PC and download everything. I never delete the pics from the card until it is backed up on at least two, and preferably three, hard drives. Look through some samples, quickly photoshop a few, grab something to eat rather distractedly and go back to photoshopping a few more samples because I want to see how they turned out, see what worked and what didn't while it is still fresh in my mind. 10 pm, finish up, email a few samples off to the model and Ang (and usually to Jasmine Sinclair as well so we can chat about what we liked and what we didn't)... off to bed!

What bondage positions do you like best?

Elegant ones! Basically I like positions that emphasise the femininity and beauty of the submissive and allow her to show
herself off a bit. Although a strict bondage cannot move a muscle position is great, I actually prefer it if she can pout and struggle and wriggle- just so long as she absolutely positively cannot escape, and she can't kick me in the nuts!

Although having said all that you can't beat a really tight hogtie!

What bondage materials do you most prefer?

I'm not sure exactly what you mean- you mean like what to tie her up with? Rope is beautiful and comes in bright colours, which I like (and so do the models... about 75% of them say "Oooo!!  PINK rope!" when they step into the storeroom). The colourful stuff is bloody awful to tie with though- slippery as hell, knots are a nightmare. If I was doing the bondage purely for me and my partner, I'd choose a soft rope with some bite to stop knots slipping, but I prefer the way the colourful rope looks in photos.

Leather is OK- I've got some stunning cuffs in white leather which were made for me especially by top to bottom leathers (as usual, they tend to sell bondage gear in any colour you like so long as it's black). They are padded with lambswool inside the leather so they are very comfortable for the submissive to wear, but they can be locked closed with little padlocks so they are inescapable.

If I am honest though my favourite is steel. With a steel collar and shackles, you can struggle about all you like but without the key you are simply NOT getting out. Steel is a bugger to use as a photographer because the tolerances are very small, especially on the wrists. A fraction of a millimeter too small and they will crush or just not close, a few millimeters too big and you can slip your hand out. Since my main models, Jasmine and Belle, are very petite, I have to order two sets of everything- normal sized and cute blonde sized!

Which bondage work do you like better -- still photos, or video production?

I came up purely through stills, so that's what I know most about.

I have got a hell of a lot to learn about video production, but I always love learning new things so right now I am probably enjoying the video side of things more. I am about to shoot my first "proper" short film... it does have a bondage element but it isn't a bondage video, if you see what I mean.

I guess they scratch different itches. Stills is the way I like to get the images in my head out for the world to see. I'm just starting to explore using video to get the stories in my head told.

What types of storylines or themes do you prefer to work on?  Love bondage, damsel in distress, sexual girl/girl themes, high fetish, adventure, glamour bondage...?

Whatever I do, it is always first and foremost glamour bondage. So she's a captured princess being menaced by the evil baron? Sure, but does she look BEAUTIFUL? So she's a wanton slavegirl dressed in rubber worshipping the feet of her goddess mistress? Yeh, but does she look GOOD doing it?

I like all of the above themes, but it'll always be done in my own glamour bondage style, I guess.

Where do you get the ideas for your scenes?

My head. Seriously. I close my eyes and I can instantly call up dozens of images I haven't got out to show people yet, stories I haven't told.

Of course, I can be inspired by other things- like everyone else, I'm not above ripping off great ties from Jim Weathers or Lorelei, and a scene in a movie or book can be very evocative, even if the thing I shoot as a result is probably not recognisable by anyone but me. Like Picasso said I don't copy, I shamelessly steal and make it mine :-)

Who have you worked with?

Apart from a few models I've worked with very recently, and some people I've done non-bondage work with,
this web page shows most of them.

Describe one of the worst bondage shoots you can remember.

Urgh. Well, the model no-shows are pretty bad (seriously girls, shit happens to everyone so everyone will have to no-show sometimes but common courtesy dictates that you should at least send me a text as soon as you know you can't make it).

But the worst bondage shoot I can remember? The model showed up late, looking very rough and... how can I put this... she stank. She was listless, careless of her appearance, obviously only here because it was paid and she didn't give a shit about the photos. Have you ever tried to make someone look beautiful on camera when their body odour is knocking you out from twenty paces and they really don't give a shit how they look or how they pose? I won't even mention some of her other hygiene problems. I shot a token set and video and got her the hell out of my house. Ugh. Shudder.

Describe your best or favorite bondage shoot that you can remember.

Absolutely and without a doubt my first shoot with Jasmine Sinclair.  This was before Restrained Elegance had opened as a paysite. We'd got in contact and booked a shoot via a notice board, but Jasmine came down with glandular fever and we had to rearrange. I was worried that Jasmine would still be under the weather.

She bounced up my garden path, said hello to my cat and smiled. I actually thought she was a little over-made-up, but she explained that as I'd said the first set was going to be very high key and brightly lit she thought she'd do full-on-makeup so it didn't wash out. Not for the first time, Jasmine's judgement proved to be better than mine.

I tied her up. For the first five shots she looked a little unsure of it all, but then she sort of shimmied and relaxed into and and suddenly- she was a supernova! You couldn't look anywhere else, her eye contact with camera was so strong. Every bondage position I put her in, she managed to find the very best way to display herself. She was glamour bondage incarnate.

Jasmine's First Shoot with Hywel  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11

Remember, back then I'd only worked with a handful of models. I thought they might all be like Jasmine! But right after the shoot I posted samples on boards and said on my portrait site that I thought Jasmine was going to be a superstar.

That was the start of the most enjoyable, productive and creative partnership I've ever had with a model. I work very closely with Jasmine to this day, we've done over a hundred photoshoots together and I still look forward to each one like it is Christmas day.

Thank you for the interview!

Hywel's work can be viewed at






Images provided by Hywel Phillips for this interview are copyrighted by Hywel Phillips.  They are not for reposting elsewhere without written consent of the copyright owner.