Photographic maverick Justice Howard has been described as a "visionary aesthete." If you believe yourself to be unacquainted with her work, that's no doubt because you simply were not aware it was Howard's.
Her client list includes Marilyn Manson, Siegfried & Roy, former Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist Dave Navarro, Waylon Jennings, Rich Little, Blue Man Group, pulp model Julie Strain, and dozens of Playboy Playmates and Penthouse Pets.
Howard's work has called forth comparisons to Herb Ritts and kink artisan/photo master Helmut Newton, her images being evocative, and often confronting. She has said, "I refuse to explain my work. Andy Warhol never explained his paintings, Bob Dylan never explained his songs. It's like that Harley Davidson T-shirt, 'If I have to explain why I ride, then you'll never understand.'"
What's clear is this visual author of hundreds of published prints is only at the beginning of her career. An evolving Website has become part of her ever-expanding image. "First I threw up a site for fun," Howard says. "I didn't take it seriously at all. It was a fun, kind of cartoon-y thing, the first one, more than anything.
"Then I realized that I got thousands and thousands of hits, so quickly. I thought, 'Wow, this is serious stuff. This is really a platform for anything I want to do.'"
She hired "a great designer: Howard Griggs. I wanted a professional-looking site, the opposite of what I had in the beginning. He built me my own backend administration page; so I'm basically my own Webmaster."
JusticeHoward.com passed 750,000 hits according to the front door counter in May 2002. "That was in eight months' time, with no advertising of any kind, no meta-tags, and very few banner trades." And new Webmasters: This is more a testament to the rep Howard has earned as a photographer than it is a recipe for success for all and sundry.
"It's word-of-mouth," Howard informs, "and that's kind of what I was counting on when I built the site. I had this idea of, 'If I build it, they will come.' As hokey as that sounds, it was totally true. I thought if I did something really well, people would respond. And they totally did."
This is not to suggest that Howard's lazy about site upkeep - anything but. "I change my galleries, I just added a 'model of the week' [feature]. I delete, modify, do my 'What's New' page, everything.
"I'm always adding things to the site. I'm gearing up for an art exhibition here in Las Vegas. It's going to be, a great portion of it, celebrity stuff. I'm shooting the mayor, I just shot the Blue Man Group - Vegas celebrities."
Howard maintains free content. "It's not really a money-making site to me. I make my money shooting." She keeps membership low, and is more interested in people joining to see the art than in reaping big bucks in retentions.
As so much of Howard's subject matter in the past has been a-conventional, fetish, or fetish-oriented, one might think she's found a safe haven on the Net, or has run to it as a boundary-free venue for expression. But she doesn't synthesize it that way.
"It all has to do with beauty.
"My site is an erotica site, in the truest sense of the word. I think artists like myself, Olivia, Ritts, are true erotica imagists." Still, she protects herself: "I make sure I put the more raw stuff in the members' section.
"This is nothing parents have to be worried about their kids going to," she states.
"I started out shooting fetish; one of the first to start shooting fetish, before everybody and their dog jumped on the bandwagon. I was doing shows, art gallery shows, and people were saying, 'What are those big shoes?' And 'Why corsets' and 'Why are they holding whips?'
Howard is exploring a wider territory these days. "When you've topped out so hard in any genre, there's no 'further up.' I've been in every fetish magazine in the world, on all the best fetish sites; I've shot all the fetish models. I'm moving on from strictly fetish stuff."
Before branching out, Howard was the adult industry's highest-paid box cover photog, shooting over 60 boxes, many of which were recipients of "Best Boxcover" and/or "Best Box Art Design" awards. Seventy-five percent also bore Howard's signature, "which made them more like an original signed photograph or work of art," she believes.
She's looking forward to shooting more celebrities. "Not because I'm 'goo-ga' over them. I like taking a celebrity, someone [who has been] profiled the same way for so many years... let's say Ricky Martin. Looking the same way in every single photo. Black leather pants and that damn sweater.
"I'd get a big kick out of taking him and doing something totally on the other end of the spectrum. Which is something I like to do with my celebrity portraits."
Howard's upcoming show is to focus not only on Vegas' local celebs, but also an edgier scene. As the artist herself has said, "I want my images to be like a slap in the face, to rattle around in your brainpan for awhile, and then take up residency there."
To capture the quality specific to her subject, she tries to see their shows, when possible (for instance, Blue Man Group used props in a show that Howard incorporated in their portrait). She thinks a 70 percent/30 percent ratio of celebrity portrait to erotica is going to be the mix at the exhibit.
The $15-at-the-door exhibition, "For the Love of the Wicked," is going up Oct. 3, 2002, 9 p.m. to 12 a.m., at the Hush Club, top of Polo Towers, 3745 S. Las Vegas Blvd. All proceeds go to Postively Kids, an organization for terminally ill children.
Now that she's moving away from things strictly adult, it would be natural to assume that she's "mellowed." Howard's the first one to guarantee that this is not the case. "I want to make beautiful images... but they will always be outlaw."