Paroxysm - Punctum - Studium - ça-a-été - denotation - connotation and Roland Barthes and Nobuyoshi Araki.
What distinguishes an erotic photograph of a pornographic?
The pornography usually shows the genus, it turns it into a motionless object, a fetish. The erotic photo on the other hand does not make the genitals the main object; she cannot show this either. What is not seen, is equally important.
The spectator is carried out under the photo and faces his own fantasies, dreams, passions, ...
On the night of September 24, 2006, vandals daubed the giant photo of Japanese photographer Nobuyoshi Araki mounted on the facade of the Museum of Photography in Charleroi. The picture with the paint spots now hangs as a trophy in the garden of the Carmelite monastery where the museum is housed.
What is there to see in the picture "From Tokyo Comedy"? What is its denotation? A young woman, knees apart, is looking at us. She wears a collar with a key attached to it with a pearl. She is not completely naked: black high gloves and long black stockings adorn her body. Her head leans a little to the right. She is made up with lipstick and eyeliner. A bright light illuminates her fine body and causing a harsh shadow on the black background. Dark plumes cover her vagina. You cannot actually consider the denotation as shocking. However, there will be a public which, from its background, the attitude and decoration, will make connotations with trafficking in women, obscenity, "the woman as a sex object" and more.
The look of the girl sucks me in the picture. The key around her neck again and again attracts me. This detail that I will not let go calls Barthes punctum. The punctum is something very personal. It provides a picture of a place where the imagination can take its course. This also distinguishes the erotic photo from the pornographic one. Photos that people have a certain interest in (studium) without a detail that really attracts or hurts (punctum) Barthes calls unary photos. Photography is unary if she explicitly transforms reality without doubling or allowing it to falter. That picture of Araki is no unary photograph. This photo dates from last century. The moment, punctum temporalis, of the creation of the image has long since passed, but the photograph bears witness to the fact that this girl was there, that she did indeed exist and that we see her there in the absolute instant of the shutter click: ça- a-été.
Araki is directing and provides the staging. The face of his model resembles the solidified faces of the Japanese Noh theater. According to Barthes, photography is an art form more associated with theater than with painting. Even if one wants make a picture vivid, the photo continues to look like a primitive theater, a Tableau Vivant, the portrayal of the motionless and made-up facies granted to the dead. Araki is fascinated by bondage, specifically the Japanese version of this, Kinbaku. His oeuvre includes thousands of bondage photos. This will affect the interpretation of "From Tokyo Comedy". The key refers to an (absent) lock, to be locked up. Yet Araki claims that he does not want to dominate the woman. He wants to express that you can try to bind her body, but her mind and her inner strength not let them pack.
The eroticism to which the photo refers, the BDSM, is a rather exceptional experience. The rule is the exception for Barthes. In "le plaisir du texte" he argues that the new - which also includes art - equals pleasure. The photograph of Araki reflects exceptional hedonistic aesthetics, goes against the doxa of entrenched views of missionary attitudes and vanilla candles. Araki goes against the stereotype of the romantic and erotic experience. Does he then cross the line between pornography and eroticism? No, because paroxysmal (paroxysm is just not cross the line) transition between eroticism and pornography depends on the viewer (place, time and culture-bound) and not the content of the work.
Araki puts down a photo that lasts and holds the gaze. The connotative processors (lighting, the pose, the point of view and the attributes), used consciously or unconsciously by the photographer, contribute to the rhetoric of the image. The contrasting black-and-white print abstracts what, in phenomenological terms would be called fleshiness and convinces me of Araki's artistic intentions.
Hilde Braet, Master of visual culture.