Whatever Happened to John Blakemore?
About 40 years ago, an uncommon man living in a very common place sent some peculiar photos to a new publishing concern in Southern California. The company, HOM (House of Milan), ran the photos in one of their magazines. And the rest, as they say, is history.
We don't know the name of the photographer. He used aliases, including Jason Whitman and John Blakemore. But it doesn't really matter. All that matters is that, for nearly two decades, “John Blakemore” churned out some of the finest bondage photo sets and films of the 1970s and 80s.
Some would argue that his work was the best, even up to the present time.
For over 20 years many wondered whatever happened to John Blakemore. He walked away in 1987 and never looked back. The political and legal climate had changed – again. House of Milan was eventually sold to a rival down the street, a company called Lyndon. HOM's publisher, a woman who had moved to Southern California from Chicago, got out of the business, and Blakemore followed suit.
Not surprisingly, due to the sudden and shrouded retreat of Blakemore from the scene, there was some speculation that he had died or that he had retired to some exotic land.
The rumors were put to rest only recently when an interview came out with Blakemore. It was conducted by someone named Ralphus who runs a forum called The GIMP (Girls in Merciless Peril). I found out about this interview from a Group on FetLife called Adult Rope Art.
Somehow Blakemore had been located. Or, more accurately, after all these years, Blakemore had found out that a lot of people were still interested in him and remained fascinated by his work. Blakemore got into contact with bondage media producer Dan Hawke and the interview with Ralphus was one of the results.
Another result was that Blakemore, who must be a senior citizen by now, shot another commercial movie.
I haven't seen that movie but, when it comes to John Blakemore, I'm content to live in the past. In the 1970s and 80s there simply was no one else around like him. It got to the point that his material was so superior, not to mention prolific, that it would take up an entire HOM magazine.
One of the first magazines I ever saw from HOM was called Bondage Classics. But there were many others, including Captured!, Whipmaster, Punished!, Suspended and so on.
Blakemore is undoubtedly the inspiration for more recent producers such as ZFX, Insex, Hogtied and probably many others. It's a matter of opinion whether these relative newcomers have been able to match the creative genius of John Blakemore's work.
One thing is true: his work has stood the test of time. And Blakemore, as near as I can tell, is in the same place he always was. He certainly isn't in some foreign land counting his dough.
After meeting with success with the photo sets which were accompanied by lurid tales of kidnap, bondage and torture, HOM's publisher, a certain Ms. B, asked Blakemore if he could make movies as well. No problem. Blakemore had a degree in film and was working full-time at a TV station. Far from raking in millions, his bondage work was always just a side job.
He was very familiar with the 16mm film cameras used in the news business in those days and started churning out silent films for HOM. Originally, these were intended for adult arcades; put a coin in the machine and watch a “loop”. Eventually, these films were also sold via mail order and advertised in the pages of the magazines.
But not all Blakemore's films were advertised in the magazines. He made some “extreme” films which were never intended for the US market. These were shot on 16mm film as well and, as always, were carefully scripted and planned so as to minimize the need for further editing.
The undeveloped negative was hand-delivered to Ms. B, and she, in turn, handed it off to her contact who made it available to certain European markets. Only recently, through the wonders of the internet, have the rest of us been able to see these long-lost masterpieces. These films are often categorized as the Erotic Perversion or Violence series.
Before the end came, HOM and Blakemore got into the business of making sound films. The titles included Curiosity Excited the Kat, The Experiment and Tourist Trap among others. I saw these films on VHS and I'm not sure if they were originally released as 8mm sound films or shot purposely for the emerging video tape market.
Blakemore was known for his creative locations: abandoned shacks, forbidding basements, decrepit warehouses. He claims in the interview that he had rented a huge building and constructed many of his sets there. He also shot a lot of photos and movies outdoors.
Though common now, Blakemore's use of clothespins was a first for me. He also used candle wax. Blakemore references Japan and Japanese bondage in the interview. But from his comments, it appears he has only a passing knowledge of Japanese SM. It's hard to say if these ideas were unique to him at the time or if he had an outside influence.
Blakemore used other, more devious instruments, which certainly did set him apart, especially for the times. One got the impression that he was constantly trying to think up new things to do, making a diligent attempt to keep his material fresh.
Blakemore talks about how he found models. If you're a regular reader of this blog, you'll notice similarities here between East and West. In short, word of mouth is better than an agency any day of the week.
He is still in contact with some of these women. One of them lives just up the road from him.
Blakemore talks about his modus operandi: Tattoos are out. A model, unless she is wearing heels, should never be filmed standing flatfooted. She should not be holding onto the ropes. Small details that Blakemore paid careful attention to have helped make his work highly sought after today.
During the interview, on more than one occasion, Blakemore commented that he hadn't even seen the majority of his completed films! Once they were on their way to California, that was it. Time to make another.
The end came for Blakemore in 1987 and he seemed to vanish without a trace. This interview is the first time most people have heard from him in over 20 years.
HOM is an interesting story by itself. The publisher, Ms. B., was related to a fellow by the name of Yogi Klein. Both of them were in Chicago when Ms. B decided to relocate to sunny Southern California.
The company in Chicago started out as a retail store, apparently one of the first shops to specialize in fetish style clothing. It was called House of Milan, Milan being the name of another town outside Chicago.
Yogi Klein was the cousin of a fellow by the name of Leonard Burtman, a well-known name in the post-war pornography industry. Burtman was a photographer, writer, artist and publisher. He may have worked with Irving Klaw in New York City in the 1950s.
After HOM was sold, John Blakemore apparently made no attempt to continue producing commercial SM material. The writing was on the wall and discretion seemed the better part of valor. Magazines and films became boring again and “love bondage” was a safer bet than what Blakemore had percolating inside his brain.
Things have changed now, especially with the internet. But it's debatable whether anyone has mastered the fundamentals the way Blakemore succeeded in doing -- four decades ago.
He was a pioneer and, at the same time, just a little too ahead of his time.