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"tying-up is synonymous for making love" araki on the art of bondage

No one’s done more to bring the Japanese bondage art form of kinbaku-bi - “the beauty of tight binding” - to the world’s attention than one-of-a-kind artist Nobuyoshi Araki. Apart from his photos of lush women like his muse Kaori tied and bound, sometimes hanging from the ceiling, he’s also known for snapping technicolour painted flowers and black-and-white Tokyo streets. When he was 20 he saw Ed van der Elsken’s 54 photobook Love on the Left Bank. Inspired, he made images referencing the poses he found within it. His exhibition at Tokyo's Taka Ishii Gallery, Love on the Left Eye, opening 25th May, returns to the theme; steadily losing the sight in his right eye though undeterred in his shooting, Araki shot hundreds of images onto slide film then obscuring the right half of each image with a marker pen before printing them. The resulting images play with Araki's usual themes; death, love, life, sex.

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Can you explain the beauty of kinbaku-bi?
I don’t let the kinbaku professionals do the tying up in my work. They would look for beauty in the appearance or tying technique, wouldn’t they? I don’t want that so I tend to do it myself or my editor does it. It’s not about the look but rather the heart. In my case, tying is almost like foreplay, comparable to fondling boobs. I tie the outside (of the body) and squeeze the passion from inside, then an emotion something similar to love comes out from me as well, in other words, I tie up the bond between us. I always say "I’m not gonna tie up your body, I’m tying up your heart." I always take photographs putting a great emphasis on the relationship with the muses. I want to gel with them, and tie up their heart, although it’s only love for that moment. Then their true nature begins to appear on their faces. Particularly on their faces, in other words, their faces show arousal. Tying-up is synonymous for making love. 

I’ve heard that you always carry rope around you, why is that?
Not lately. I lost the one I had. A while ago, I took a kinbaku photograph of Kaori being my ‘last kinbaku’. That picture is a proclamation saying ‘this is the ultimate kinbaku, one is enough.’ My masterstroke of kinbaku. I haven’t carried a rope since then. I used to carry one all the time. Isn’t it the case that we find ourselves going to a ‘love hotel’ because of a sudden passion, mood or something? Then you’d need a rope, wouldn’t you? You’ll need to restrict that fleeting love.

Do you have a favourite model or muse at the moment? Who is she?
Only Kaori, the muse is Kaori.

Where do you source kimonos for your shoot?
I have a stylist for that. I choose kimonos of the Taisho era and the beginning of the Showa era mainly. Modern ones are no good. I feel the most in touch with kimonos from older periods. They are vintage so the sweat of the women who wore them has been absorbed in the kimonos, which makes them sexual. All kimonos were worn by real women back in those days.

You don’t use the same kimonos?
No. They are presents for my models. It’s rude to reuse the same ones, don’t you think? I don’t think of them as my ‘models’ but my ‘lovers’ during shoots. I really like the kimono in those periods. I believe the kimono is another sexual skin. There’s nothing better than a kimono, even nude skin. I can say a kimono is Japanese nude. It just won’t work without a kimono, although I am sometimes cheeky and flip the kimono up and show pubic hair. 

How are your photos of flowers connected to your photos of tied-up women?
The precious region of a kinbaku photograph is the genitals. Flowers are the same and they’ve got a precious region.

Your shoots often involve elaborate rigging; have you ever had any accidents on set?
Accidents happen every time. It’s because I arrange to make accidents happen so the muses and I express unexpected emotions and actions, these are the times I capture photographs of them. My photography can be described as starting with the foreplay of kinbaku and finishing up with the orgasm of accidents.

Have you ever run into troubles with censorship? What do you think of censorship?
Of course, I’ve been troubled many times. Showing pubic hair used to be prohibited, but I also think total freedom from censorship is boring too. I enjoy doing things that are not allowed. For somebody like me, who grew up in downtown Shitamachi, I want to do something ‘naughty’. The part that breaks with the norm is the same as art, isn’t it? 

Are you in love at the moment?
I am, all the time. Life is love.