photographer hal captures couples lubed up, wrapped in plastic and vacuum-sealed

In his latest series, Flesh Love Returns, he also photographs them in places they love, adding complexity and insight to a previous project.

by Zio Baritaux
28 November 2016, 3:35pm

Photo shoots with Japanese photographer Haruhiko Kawaguchi—better known as Photographer Hal — start out strange: first, he asks couples to undress, and smothers them in lube. Then things get even weirder: he smushes the couples together, wraps them in a plastic bag, and uses a vacuum to suck out all the air. But Hal isn't a photographer with a fetish; he's better described as a hopeless romantic. "I think love is the most important thing on earth," says Hal, whose Flesh Love series was about fusing couples into single beings. The plastic bags—or "vacuum-sealed packs of love," as he calls them—were simple devices used to visualize connectedness. Hal photographed around 400 couples for the series, before completing the project and publishing a book on it in 2015. Now, however, Hal has revived the project as Flesh Love Returns, and taken it one step further: Instead of shooting couples naked and against monochromatic backgrounds, Hal is photographing them in places that are meaningful to their relationships (such as a restaurant, bathtub, love hotel or street littered with cherry blossoms). "Sometimes, at exhibitions, I would get questions about who the models were," Hal explains. "I had a need to describe their personalities without text." In doing so, the series has become more nuanced, and the photos have more depth. Each one offers hints at a love story, told in Hal's unique visual language. "Someday, I hope to find my love," Hal discusses in the following interview, "and together be in a vacuum-sealed bag too."

How and when did you discover your passion for photography?
Living through my university days, I was starving for encounters with different people from other cultures around the world. As soon as I had the opportunity, I left Japan and began my travels with a special focus on the Middle East and India. It was here that I first became aware of my passion for photography. The camera became the key to overcoming shyness and limited local language abilities, and I could, in some way, communicate with the people I met.

Why did you want to express love in a visual way? Why are love and intimacy the main themes in your work?
I think love is the most important thing on the earth. To express the power of love, I decided to choose couples as subjects. Men and women are attracted to each other and try to become one. This fundamental desire carries an energy that affects all matter in the world. I wonder what is the reason we have to make such an effort to become one. Possibly we were originally one. Since I believe this, I intend to visualize this power of love by adhering and unifying couples. The closer the distance between them, the stronger the power. The law of gravity also shows the pull is stronger when two objects become closer. To be adhered shows their strength. I decided to vacuum-pack couples as a method to express coherence.

In the new extension of the series, you have started to photograph the couples in their homes, offices, or other places that are meaningful to them. Why did you make this shift in your work? Does it make the work even more intimate?
With the new project, I began shooting couples in a location that would express their personality. The location could be a couple's home, their favorite restaurant, place they first met each other—basically, an important place for them. In Flesh Love, their body was the entire focus, but in Flesh Love Returns, I'd like to appeal to the audience with the body and a background altogether.

How do you find the couples that you photograph? Do people often agree to participate or do a lot of people say no?
I am looking for couples all the time and everywhere. Some couples were found through social media, some couples were found in a bar or nightclub, and some couples emailed me. Each time, a discussion is performed between me and the models. Most couples are interested in my work from the first contact, and almost all of them participate in the shooting.

What attracts you to a certain couple? What makes a couple interesting?
I think that the fun of couple photography is in a couple's degree of adhesion. If a picture of a couple is taken outside, they will be shy, but if they love each other passionately, they will embrace each other strongly. The degree of adhesion expresses the depth of love. One day when I was shooting a couple in a love hotel, I found an interesting golden bathtub. I shot with them inside, and I noticed how the visuals became fun when I put a couple in a narrow space like that. Also, as there are many small bathrooms in the houses of Tokyo, it is suitable for my shooting and expresses the living environment in Tokyo. This project was named Couple Jam. After I published the photo book of this project, I sought a material that could stick a couple inside an everyday life material. Then the vacuum bag for bedding was found. The two lovers draw closer until they finally transform into a single being. Looking at these vacuum-sealed packs of love, I can imagine a more peaceful world. For me, the vacuum pack is only a means: the important thing is connecting each other.

Can you tell us the story of one interesting couple you photographed for Flesh Love Returns? And why they selected the place they were photographed in?
One couple came from Germany to Tokyo just to participate in my shoot. They went sightseeing during the first few days in Tokyo to find the best location for their photo. In the end, they were photographed in their hotel room; it was the best place for them.

Do you consider yourself a hopeless romantic?
Yes, I am typical Japanese man.


Text Zio Baritaux
Photographs courtesy Photographer Hal

Photographer Hal
photography interviews
Zio Baritaux