Japanese ‘erotic’ photography: 野村佐紀子/ Sakiko Nomura



Our first stop on our travel in the world of Japanese erotic photography is Sakiko Nomura (1967 – … ), who was the former assistant of Noboyushi Araki. She’s mainly known for taking the male nude as her subject (see for instance Hadaka no Heya (1994, Aat Room) and Hadaka no Jikan (1997, Heibonsha)), but in recent years she ventured in framing women, children and cats too (See for instance Ai No Jikan (2000, BPM) and the privately published Kuroneko/Black Cat (2002)).

There’s no particular reason why the starting point of our trajectory became this female photographer. Like with real travel, it’s not the starting point nor the destination that counts but the act of traveling, the journey itself. One could ask oneself if, in some instances, eroticism isn’t underpinned by the same quality as traveling, in as much as it’s not the destination – whatever that may be, that counts, but the staging of a journey, characterized by encounters that give rise to the imagining of a destination.

Eroticism is a subjective encounter, but with what?  

Sakiko-Nomura-9 Sakiko-Nomura-45 Sakiko-Nomura-22Sakiko-Nomura-15  Sakiko-Nomura-18Sakiko-Nomura-38

If one looks closely at the six photographs shown above one aspect of eroticism should be readily apparent. It concerns the aspect of an ‘encounter’. In these six photographs the erotic encounter with the male or female viewer is instigated by the framing of “the looking” or “the eyes of the subject of photography” – we refrain from using the signifier Gaze, because it has a specific meaning in Freudian-Lacanian psychoanalysis.

But is this framing of “the looking” always needed? In other words: is eroticism always caused by a framing of ‘the eyes of the subject” that captures our looking? In our view this is not the case and we hope to illustrate this later on.

Decentering the importance of “the eyes”, we can pose the above mentioned question differently: Is eroticism always caused by an encounter with something that “watches” the viewer? In this case, we’re obliged to say yes. An encounter, be it erotic or not, is always a meeting with something that watches, but only because a subject, i.e. the one that looks at the photograph, is looking. And that ‘something’, to be situated in the photograph, which ensnares our ‘looking’, is only capable of acquiring the value of a “watching object”, because it’s framed by our ‘fantasy’, which in turn structures our drives.

Thus the idea that a photograph’s erotic value is a function of the fantasy of the one who’s watching, points to a radical subjective experience of eroticism. This also implies that Sakiko Nomura’s photography, her act of framing, is first and foremost a subjective project, a project that, even though it causes erotic encounters with viewers, isn’t necessarily underpinned by the aim to frame eroticism. In general this means that nude photography isn’t erotic per se.

Nudity is not erotic per se.

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In the five following photographs, photographs where the aspect of “the looking” isn’t directly focused on, one can sense – even though some people can encounter eroticism in these pictures – that Sakiko Nomura’s oeuvre is more than just framing eroticism.

One should even ask oneself if Sakiko Nomura’s focus is eroticism to begin with and if her photography isn’t, first and foremost, concerned with the framing of intimacy in all its fragility. Every photograph that is featured in this article seems to be underpinned by an emptiness, a loneliness, a sadness and even longing.

In the Nomura’s exhibition “naked time” in Poland, 2006, they described her photography as “creating a story about life and time”, emphasizing “man’s helplessness towards the secret of life and time”. The men are framed in such way, “deprived of daily attributes “, revealing them “to be much lonelier in longing for something undefined, something that would enable them a real fulfilment”. Given this description it would this be more correct to describe Nomura’s photography as a fragile and intimate framing of men’s unfulfilled desire. This longing, often framed using “the looking”, can, depending on the specific subjective constitution of the one who’s looking at the pictures, take on an erotic value and thus become an erotic encounter.

Conclusion: no eroticism without an encounter.

In exploring a small part of Sakiko Nomura’s oeuvre we’ve come to the conclusion that there can be no eroticism without a subjective encounter. That way we pointed out that each subject experiences nude photography differently, given the fact that each subject has a different subjective constellation. Furthermore, this implies that the experience, i.e. the vision of the photographer or the “object” that the photographer him/herself encounters in the act of taking a particular photograph, is fundamentally different than the experience of the ‘public’.

Despite uncovering the necessity of an encounter to enable an erotic experience and the inherent subjective nature of eroticism, the case of Sakiko Nomura didn’t shown us anything that presents support for an eroticism that’s distinctively Japanese.

Website photographer:



Nagi czas (19.04-28.05, 2006) Fotografia Sakiko Nomura.  Retrieved from: http://www.mhf.krakow.pl/?action=exhibition&param=out&id=87&year=2006#ex87


2 Comments Add yours

  1. erwin says:

    Zou het toch niet kunnen dat de Japanse fotografie meer ruimte laat voor subtiel erotisme, terwijl dat in de westerse fotografie alleen hel uitzonderlijk voorkomt? Eigenlijk weet ik er helemaal niets van, hoor. groetjes, Erwin (8hoek)

    1. pvhaecke says:

      Erwin, It’s possible that Japanese eroticism leaves more room to be subtle. It’s an idea worth keeping in mind for our further investigation of Japanese erotic photography. [Thanks for your response]

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