All photos Oren
Feature, Inc., NYC.
the Broken Dolls.
First session with
Yuki (Tokyo, Dec. '93) ,
Yuki in My Hotel
Room in Tokyo,
June '95, from City....
Cover of Sad
Holidays , 1986.
an interview by
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
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
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 art...as 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 fast...my 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.