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Back to Features 97

Yukie, 1996
All photos Oren
Slor, courtesy
Feature, Inc., NYC.

Yoko in

Minh-chou, 1996

Tomoko in Shimo-kitazawa, 1996

Cover of City of
the Broken Dolls

First session with
Yuki (Tokyo, Dec. '93)
from City...

Yuki in My Hotel
Room in Tokyo,
June '95
, from City....

Cover of Sad
, 1986.


an interview by
Walter Robinson
Romain Slocombe is a French cartoonist, 

photographer, painter and filmmaker who is 

fairly well known in Tokyo and also in 

France as the "Medical Artist." He takes 

pictures of young Japanese women wearing 

bandages, slings, eye patches, splints, 

Band-Aids and various wrappings of white 

gauze. It is a fetish that is both 

comforting--the white, clean, fluffy, soft 

bandages are a sign of love and healing--

and ominous, as the bandages suggest 

injury, accident and the wound--

particularly, as a Freudian might point 

out, the most serious wound of all, the 

dreadful imaginary wound that is always 

the source of the fetish. 

Slocombe got the appellation "medical 

artist" in 1983 after publishing a 

compilation of works by various artists all 

related to medical subjects--a book called 

Medical Art. It was an immediate hit in 

Japan and is now quite rare. Later he made 

paintings of bruised and injured Japanese 

girls wearing bandages, some of which he 

included in a booklet called Sad Holidays. 

The book tells the story of 15 Japanese 

girls who have a bus accident just as they 

begin a holiday in France and must spend 

their vacation in the hospital. He is an 

accomplished cartoonist as well; his first 

comic book was called Prisoner of the Red 

Army (1978) and he was a member of the 

group around the magazine Metal Hurlant. He 

began taking photographs in 1992. Slocombe 

is 43, married to a Japanese woman and has 

a 12-year-old daughter. 

Slocombe is also working on a documentary 

film about the New York erotic 

photographer Richard Kern, who he 

met when he had a show in Paris earlier 

this year. An earlier film Slocombe made in 

Tokyo, called Floating World, featured a 

lot of Japanese s&m fetish work. The movie 

caused a scandal when it was shown at the 

relatively conservative Arles Film Festival 

last summer. 

Slocombe is presently having his first solo 

show in New York at Feature in SoHo, where a 

selection of 17 blue-tinted photographs, 30 

x 40 cm., are on view, priced at $1000 each, 

in editions of eight. He also has new book 

of photographs due out soon from Creation 

Books in London, titled City of Broken 

Dolls. We met him on the first Saturday of 

his exhibition to ask a few questions.

Q. The models seem to take quite well to 

being bandaged up.

A. They usually like it very much. Often 

they will tell a story, like one girl who 

said she cut her finger as a child and wore 

the bandage to school even after it had 

healed because she was proud to wear a 

bandage. Usually the models enjoy the 

session, and say afterwards, "It really 

felt nice with the bandages on." They get a 

bit excited sexually.

Q. Is this specific to the Japanese?

A. It's true that there's a long bondage 

tradition in Japan, a submissive tradition 

on the women's side, not in everyday life 

but sexually, they often like to play a 

submissive role.

Q. How does this relate to you as a 


A. I've been interested in bandages since I 

saw a picture in a book where a doll had 

been broken and repaired with bandages, and 

the illustrator had painted the doll very 

realistically with black hair, and she 

could have looked like a Japanese. So maybe 

when I was a kid the double image of 

femininity as both the white bandage and 

black hair fixed itself in my mind.

Q. So these are fetish photographs?

A. The Japanese are very close to this 

particular fetish; there is a real link 

between my work and the way Japanese 

understand sex. When you are an artist you 

can recreate that in an artistic way.

Q. You must have hundreds of these photos.

A. Yes, I have quite a lot. 

Q. How do you find the models?

A. It is so easy to find models. My wife is 

Japanese and my first model was a Japanese 

baby-sitter for us and she introduced me to 

her friends. Later I was lucky enough in 

France to find a few models who were in a 

theater troupe and liked to pose. Then it 

was during my trips to Tokyo that I found 

all the other girls. What I'm really 

pleased with is if I find a beautiful girl 

on the street and talk to her and convince 

her to pose for me wearing bandages.

Q. Do women ever see your photographs and 

volunteer to pose?

A. Yes quite often. I'm well known in Tokyo 

for my photography.

Q. Do you have favorite models?

A. Three main models have almost identical 

names: Yukie, Yuka and Yoko. They're all 

between 20 and 24, my models ... I'm really 

interested in the relationship between the 

photographer and the model...for me the 

bandage is very important, it makes 

something come out in the look of the girl, 

the fact that she is pretending to be 

injured...the communication gets stronger 

between the photographer & model... 

Particularly toward the end of the session. 

Their eyes begin to shine. 

Q. Lately in New York there's been much 

talk about what Hal Foster has called 

"Trauma Culture," referring to a range of 

things from Oprah to the photographer Nan 

Goldin, all involving the relation of pain 

to ideas of authentic subjectivity. 

A. In my work I think it is something else, 

an authenticity that comes from a time when 

you were a child, because when a child 

plays games, pretends to be something else, 

dresses up and all that, it's their inner 

self that is having fun. And I think that 

when a girl enters that little game and 

disguises herself in that childlike way--

we've all played doctor and nurse and 

things like that, pretending to be injured 

when we were kids--maybe the model goes 

backwards, regressed, in a sort of time 

travel that releases another sort of 

authenticity....And besides, there is no 

real pain. It's a all a game. Which allows 

them to relax more.


Q. It's more erotic. 

A. And there's something reassuring about 

the bandages, they like being wrapped up. 

It's like when a women applies makeup, it 

makes them feel reassured. 

Q. What about the more typical s&m leather 

fetish, do you do any of that kind of work?

A. When I first met Yuka she was working in 

a fetish shop in Tokyo...she was very 

stunning, very tall, long black hair, and 

she would come to the photo session with 

all the fetish gear she would borrow from 

the shop. I took some fantastic pictures of 

her. I'm not so much into the traditional 

s&m but its nice to have the contrast 

between the black leather and the white 

orthopedic gear, which constricts the same 

parts of the body but is white. I like to 

mix the two. Once I did a medical 

performance at a nightclub in Tokyo with 

Yuka and she appeared in black in black 

boots with a gag and her hands tied behind 

her back and I would remove those things 

helped by a nurse dressed in white 

replacing them with white things and at the 

end she was completely covered in white and 

walked off with a crutch helped by a nurse.

Q. Where are you staying?

A. In a big hotel in Times Square with 700 

rooms now run by Vietnamese people. It's 

not very clean but it's perfect for me. I 

often take pictures in hotel rooms, it's 

convenient, you have a bed. I like white 

sheets if I don't have a hospital a hotel 

will work perfectly.

Q. How do you think your work fits into the 

contemporary art scene?

A. It's difficult to say because I've 

always resolutely and purposely ignored the 

details of contemporary a student 

we had the choice between galleries and 

comics....and I chose comics and later Pop 

illustration, while doing my medical 


Q: Perhaps you're work represents the clash 

between the French and the Indochinese 


A: I think if it's symbolic at all it's a 

visual symbol, the injured person, when you 

walk in the street, even if you're not 

interested in bandages from a fetish point 

of view, the eye is obviously attracted by 

someone who is walking on crutches or has 

an arm in a sling, the white is very 

strong. People always look at people who 

are injured in a certain way. The injured 

person had an accident, she is already 

separated, that person is separated from 

reality and there's an aura around that 

person....For me of course it's a fetish, I 

would be immediately attracted if there 

were a girl with a bandage in the street. 

My bandages are a bit exaggerated like 

in a movie when you see someone has been 

injured the bandages are exaggerated, in 

Japan particularly so, maybe because the 

Japanese like people to wear the costume 

that is really proper to the situation. So 

Japanese in movies if someone is 

injured in the hospital you can be sure 

that the bandage will be enormous.

So my girls are maybe movie patients rather 

than real patients. My doctor friend who 

makes the casts for me says that on the 

contrary to make people feel better they 

reduce the bandage very quickly so that the 

person thinks that he is really improving 

very bandages are really big and 

inconvenient and bandage-like...and 

that's what I like. Myself as a fetishist 

I'm satisfied if the model really looks 

like an injured person.

Some people misunderstand and think that 

I'm excited if the model is in pain or that 

there must be some horrible scars 

underneath but it's not that at all. I'm 

more interested in the wrapping, in the 

visual, in the outside aspect, rather than 

what might be on the inside. The 

vulnerability and weakness also, that's why 

I called my book Broken Dolls. It does 

enhance the femininity of the model. I find 

it makes them really beautiful. Some people 

misunderstand me completely, people will 

say this is antiwomen he must hate women. 

To the contrary, I love them, not only as a 

male but as a person, a friend and a fellow 

human being. I admire their beauty, I envy 

them, being so beautiful. So in fact it's 

just for me a way of enhancing the women.