Japanese ‘erotic’ photography: 村田兼一, Ken-ichi Murata. (Part 2)



Erotic ‘fetish’ tension of life and death force.

“When I was ten years old, I came to realize that “the human will die someday”. And I got so afraid of death that I could not get out of my house at all. Since then I got anxiety neurosis and have been living with it. Therefore, this disease has influenced my life. And the consciousness of death which I always have, influences my creation a lot (Murata, see his website).”

Murata’s art, as the above quote implies, should be seen as a secondary response to the traumatic realization of the temporariness of life. On a side note, this aspect of the temporariness of life immediately evokes questions concerning the relation between Murata’s photography and Japanese Aesthetics – questions that first and foremost have to be asked to Murata himself. Nevertheless, the true artistic mainspring of Murata’s works seems to be nothing other than this traumatic encounter, this encounter with the Real, an encounter that’s beyond erotic and beyond language.

This encounter constitutes a “repetition” that underpins Murata’s oeuvre. This repetition is easily recognized in the explicit staging of elements/metaphors that refer to death (See for instance the skulls that features in the photographs above and the narrative function of monsters mentioned in the quote above) and the way in which death structures most of the erotic narratives. The erotic narratives of Murata are therefore structured by two “recurring” interrelated elements: the signifier “Hime” and the element of the real, “death”, as metaphor.

In other words, the repetition of metaphors of “death”, of Thanatos, only has meaning in relation to the repetition of Hime, Eros, i.e. the situating of the female Eros. In Murata’s photography Eros and Thanatos are often explicitly juxtaposed (see the pictures above), and even where this isn’t the case, the tension between Eros and Thanatos (explicitly or implicitly) lingers in the narrative structure. This tension of Eros/Hime and Thanatos – instigated by the anxiety neurosis of Murata – underpins and guides Murata’s oeuvre. And it’s only by way of the fictionalized narrative context, structured by the Eros of the female body as situated around the genital area, that Murata is able to explore the impermanence of life, in the guise of Thanatos (death, …). The importance of repetition, the repeated shooting of such structured narratives, is even identified by Murata himself:

“But in my works, there is a story that the princess got taken in brambles and finally assimilated to them. Repeating those photographic shootings, I gradually got familiar with death and now I got a harmony agreement with it (Murata, see his website)

Murata’s Eros in relation with the Female Eros drive

We’ve posited Murata’s framing of eroticism as a framing of the female Eros drive, but wouldn’t it be more correctly to say that his photography constitutes the framing of his own perception of the Eros drive in the body of a woman. Describing the erotic framing as such enables us to see that the framed “Eros” in question also concerns Murata’s own Eros: the “fixation” of the female Eros implies the “situating” of his own Eros, his own phallic jouissance, on or in relation to the body of the woman, enabling thus the staging, using various narratives, of “sexual union” – the Eros drive, as is well known, is a force that tends to “unification”. This unification, this Eros connection, finds it representation for example in the use of hoses, connecting the female genital with that “something” that “nourishes” it. Could the hose possibly be an object by which Murata’s own Eros comes to be explicitly represented?

In a way the Eros of the female body in Murata’s photography aims to be a representation, an “Ikon” of his own Eros drive. In other words, the representation of the female Eros is guided by Murata’s own Eros, which, by this representation finds its own representation in the photographs. This formulation enables us to (re)pose an important question concerning the relation between spectator/photographer and photographically framed eroticism: Shouldn’t we understand the appreciation of eroticism as functioning like a Möbius strip, i.e. Eroticism, understood as “a reference to bodily enjoyment of the other”, can only exist there where the framed other and the subject are continuous with each other, by way of the subject’s fantasy.

The use of Kinbaku and its implications.

In the light of our search of any specific elements that might constitute a distinct Japanese erotic photography, these images (see above) have an important value. Murata’s use of ropes in these photographs refers to the specific Japanese art of Kinbaku. As this art of binding, as is obvious by looking at the pictures, is only ever used as a support for the narrative, we won’t elaborate on this specific art of Kinbaku.

But the fact that Kinbaku is present in Murata’s photography, together with our mentioning of Japanese Aesthetics and Murata’s use of Japanese mythology, shows that there are (in the case of kinbaku and the use of Japanese mythology) and might be (in the case of Japanese Aesthetics) specific Japanese elements that influence erotic photography. It’s an idle dream to think that these elements can be used to delineate a distinct Japanese eroticism, but they nevertheless show that there are specific Japanese cultural elements in play in framing eroticism. In other words: the cultural context, the Other, in which the subject-photographer is born into, is ever present in his/her erotic photography. It’s ever present because in every erotic picture the subject-photographer accounts for how this specific cultural Other shaped his/her subject.


If there’s something that Murata’s erotic photography proves is that the act of taking photographs in itself is radically subjective. Murata’s photography reveals itself as a long and probably never-ending elaboration of an encounter with the real, that constituted his anxiety neurosis. In other words, his photography is nothing other than a response, an answer or even a treatment of that anxiety and the element of death/impermanence that constituted it.

Besides corroborating our previously formulated idea that the position of the spectator can never be the same as the position of the one who creates, Murata’s photography also gave rise to the idea that the erotic encounter should be understood as functioning like a Mobius strip: that ‘something’ in the image that the spectator encounters is, by way of the subject’s fantasy, continuous with the subject itself.

Furthermore Murata’s photography shows that the radical subjective nature of photography is embedded in the Other, the same Other that comes to constitute the subject/photographer. Does this mean that there is something that can be called “Japanese erotic photography”? In our view, this isn’t the case. The influence of the Other (on the subject and thus on his photography) only shows that the way in which the subject/photographer stages eroticism is always function of the specific Other he’s born into. In other words: there are distinct Japanese aspects to Erotic photography and to the staging of eroticism.

So in our further trajectory we should be attentive for those specific Japanese aspects that subjects/photographers utilize in their photographical endeavour of staging eroticism.

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