The Secret Kink Meetings in Pandemic Istanbul

“We are not afraid of the coronavirus,” one of the leading members of the underground BDSM community in Istanbul says with sarcasm. This as she cleans her hands with sanitizing gel for the sixth time in an hour.


A participant is suspended from the ceiling with ropes tied tightly around their body.

Source Demetrios Ioannou

While everything is being canceled or shut down worldwide due to COVID-19 concerns, this group refuses to put pleasure aside and obey social distancing rules. “We will keep meeting for as long as possible. At least until we are in a total lockdown” was the answer I received when the group allowed me to photograph a meeting and performance in March.


Left: Members of Istanbul’s BDSM community meet weekly to engage in “master classes” and to explore their sexual preferences, like bondage and melted wax play. Those not part of a couple find another single member to perform what they learn. Right: Some candles contain substances that cause more pain than others. “The places of the body that sun doesn’t see hurt more than anywhere else,” a member tells me.

Source Photography by Demetrios Ioannou

The group meets almost every week –– this time it was in the home of a couple in their late 30s who are community leaders. The gatherings are mostly “master classes” led by experienced members to educate novices. On this night, the attendees learned about melted wax play while watching and participating in a bondage show.

The BDSM community, which started to form in Istanbul a few years ago, consists of approximately 500 members across the city. Using pseudonyms, members mostly connect through Twitter.

End of the Line for Handpainted Movie Posters?

Three large pieces of white paper, fastened together with tape, sit on the floor of Virginia Axioti’s apartment in Athens. Standing next to the fireplace, which is hidden behind one of her huge paintings, the Greek artist mixes colors and prepares her brushes. She is about to create something in a beautiful old-school art form that is rarely practiced today. 

Axioti is the last person in Greece who makes hand-painted movie posters. Athinaion Cinemas is the only cinema in the country — and one of the few worldwide — that continues to use the nonprinted billboards to advertise films. 

Today Axioti draws her first line on the 20-by-7-foot paper, which in a few days will become a gigantic Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker billboard. 

She literally grew up inside Athinaion — it’s been in her family since her grandfather and his brother started the cinema in the 1960s. “I’ve seen so many movies that I feel my whole life is like a movie,” she says. 

This past summer, Axioti became the cinema’s solo artist when 84-year-old Vasilis Dimitriou, who’d been creating the posters since he was 14 years old, decided to retire. “I have painted more than 80 posters since 2015 when I first started helping Mr. Vasilis,” Axioti explains. It depends on the movie, she adds, but the large pieces take up to four to five days to complete, working for about five hours daily.


When Axioti finishes with the main pieces of the poster, she adds details to make the painting look as realistic as possible. She wishes more people practiced this art form, and that more cinemas used them.

Source Demetrios Ioannou

Up until the videocassette generation of the ’90s, hand-painted posters were the norm for small cinemas in Greece. But when video clubs began to open, the old-school movie houses began to shutter and those remaining turned to printed posters, which were much easier to produce

But Athinaion Cinemas has never opted for the newer, cheaper posters. “Fancy vinyl clothes were never our favorite,” Axioti jokes.


Athinaion Cinemas is one of the oldest cinemas in the country. It opened in 1960 and was named by Athenians through a public vote.

Source Demetrios Ioannou

When a movie finishes, the hand-painted posters are taken down and returned to the artist. Both Dimitriou and Axioti have sold a few of their posters, including a handful to the cinema, but the majority are kept at their apartments. “Ideally, I would like to choose some of them and have an exhibition,” Axioti  says. “I would like to find a big place that can host as many as possible, and I want to invite the cast and crew of these movies.”