Next up in our trip through Japanese erotic photography is the female photographer Maki Miyashita (宮下 マキ), who was born in 1975 in Kagoshima, Kyushu. Even though she started studying film at the Kyoto college of Art, her interest shifted to photography while working a part-time job at a film processing lab in Kyoto. After graduation, she began working as a professional photographer besides pursuing her interest in documentary photography.
Very early in her career, 1997 to be precise, she conceived the idea of her award-winning Rooms and Underwear [部屋と下着] photography project. As she was riding the bullet train, the shinkansen, to Tokyo, the view of all the apartment buildings passing by made her wonder who lived behind those architectural blends of glass and concrete. This curiosity to go behind the “soto” (outside, 外) made her start taking pictures of the “uchi” (inside, 内) of women, showing them in underwear in their living quarters.
In our previous entries [Sakiko Nomura, Ken-ichi Murata (part 1), (part2)] we already underlined some aspects concerning eroticism in photography. To summarize: our main thesis is that there is no experience of eroticism possible without a subjective encounter. In other words: the appreciation of eroticism is a radical subjective affair and the act of taking photographs is in itself radically subjective. We also introduced that eroticism can be structured by a narrative and guide the way in which the subject-spectator can enjoy a given photograph erotically – in any case, the subject always encounters a series of photographs in its temporal dimension.
The revelation of Uchi as a form of intimacy.
In the case of Yamashita’s photography, there is one dimension that characterizes each picture: the dimension of intimacy. We have sensed this dimension already when we discussed Sakiko Nomura’s photography, but it is apparent that the intimacy here has a different tone or weight. Whereas the intimacy in Nomura’s photography is played out in the relation between framed model – by way of playing us with eye-contact, and the spectator, the intimacy here is played out at the exhibitionist character of the picture as such.
Using the signifier “exhibitionist” we aim to underline the exhibition of the women’s private sphere, their “uchi” that is hidden behind the societal “soto’: the clothing, and the architectural clothing that walls and windows introduce. It is an intimacy devoid of any strict sexuality, an intimacy, as Miyashita believes, full of ideas and originality. With her photography, Miyashita tried nothing other than to capture the uniqueness of the woman as subject in all her intimacy.
As beyond voyeurism?
“(bras and panties are) what women wear when they are relaxing,”
The invitation to an exhibition of intimacy, reveals the voyeuristic tendency of documentary photography as such. The act of putting a camera in an intimate sphere, the act of capturing and fixating a certain moment, the act of exhibit these frozen moments to the public. All of that, reveals an inherent dynamic of exhibitionism/voyeurism that is often in play in photography.
The presented and documented intimacy of Miyashita doesn’t escape the voyeuristic tendency – and it doesn’t try to for that matter. The photography is conscious of its voyeurism because it aims to present their “uchi”, as intimacy, explicitly in the societal ‘soto’. By way of exhibiting intimacy, the spectator is invited to realize a voyeuristic position as well. And it in this voyeuristic position that the subject as spectator realizes his subjectivity.
Conclusion: Scopic pleasure beyond and not beyond eroticism
It is in the meeting of the subject with the documented intimacy that his subjectivity alters the nature of what is presented. In other words: the meeting of the subject with that intimacy will determine if the photography is experienced as beyond eroticism or not beyond eroticism. But how can this kind of documentary photography become a form of eroticism?
Before answering this question, it is important to introduce the following: Miyashita’s photography strengthens the meeting with intimacy by adding a brief biography of each woman, which includes the initials of the woman, birthdate, blood type, occupation, type of living quarters, city, and monthly rent, and by adding comments by the women about their room and their choice of underwear. The pictures are thus given a simple narrative structure, a narrative orientation that further underlines the subjectivity of each woman.
“I prefer sweet-looking underwear rather than sexy underwear,” “Black underwear is for an aggressive mood, and white is for a protective mood,” “When I wear blue jeans, I don’t wear underwear.”
It is this narrative, this collection of sentences, that can invite the male spectator to further eroticize the intimacy of the women. They invite the male spectator to frame the pictures by his fantasy and further fantasize the presented intimacy. We wrote “further erotize” because it should already be obvious – if one has read our previous articles, that the meeting with a woman as picture can already be enough for the subjectivity of the male to be touched and invite the picture into the realm of his eroticism.