Having a family portrait taken by Haruhiko Kawaguchi brings an unusual condition: that he wraps your whole house in plastic and then vacuum-seals you in an airtight bag.
“When I started the series, I asked some close friends of mine to test how long they could hold their breath and see that it was about 15 seconds,” Kawaguchi said in a video call from Okinawa, Japan. “So, I decided to set a ’10-second rule ‘where I would open the bag after 10 seconds, regardless of whether (I took the picture) or not.”
Kawaguchi custom-built giant plastic sheets to enclose entire homes, including trees and vehicles. Credit: Photographer Hall
Starting with intimate pictures of lovers trapped inside sealable bags, which were once used to preserve futons, his pictures have grown ever since. In the latest installment of his series titled “Flash Love All”, the photographer covers the couple or family and the most important places for them – usually their houses, trees, cars and motorbikes – complete with custom-made plastic sheets.
“(The new photos) have a message of connection to the outside world and express an equal love for everything,” he said. “We pack everything in the background to represent the social connection that matters with the outside world, not just ourselves.”
It can take up to two weeks to create a custom wrap and set up a single photo, while the final photoshoot requires the help of about seven people. An assistant is always ready to open the bags – or cut them in an emergency – if the photographer is unable to do so. She has a portable oxygen tank in her hand, as well as a spray to keep things cool during hot summer photoshoots.
For his previous series, “Flash Love Returns”, Kawaguchi asked the couple to take pictures in a place that was meaningful to them. Credit: Photographer Hall
Kawaguchi admits that some people “feel claustrophobic” when looking at his photos. And he’s aware of how suffocating it can be to have a cover in an airtight bag – because he’s tried it himself.
“When I was in the bag, I felt that my life and death were completely controlled by others,” he said. “I could actually feel how my subjects gave their lives to me.”
When the two become one
The series dates back to when Kawaguchi was a commercial photographer in his 20s. In his spare time to create his own work, he took his camera to gigs and nightclubs, where he often took pictures of young couples.
“I found the couple very interesting as a subject because they were full of joy, anger, sadness and happiness,” he said. “When I observed them, I also noticed that there was a connection between the physical and emotional distance between the two people.”
Finding volunteers among his friends (and friends), Kawaguchi started “flesh love” as a way to “imagine intimacy and love” between the couple, he said. The photographer worked with the objects to find gaps between their lubricated – and sometimes completely naked – bodies before removing air from the bag using a vacuum cleaner.
The photographer said fitting the couple together was “like a puzzle”. Credit: Photographer Hall
“I want my subjects to rehearse their poses over and over again, and then recreate the choices in the bag,” he said, adding that it was “like a puzzle to fit them together.”
Kawaguchi said he was inspired by Plato’s “The Symposium”, where the philosopher said that before the Greek god Zeus divided them in half, men and women were once single animals with four arms, four legs and two mouths.
“Wrapping things in a bag was a by-product,” the photographer said. “The main purpose of my art is to reunite two people who love each other.
“I still don’t know exactly what love is, but I don’t think it’s just about distance,” he added. “Surprisingly, I sometimes feel that things don’t look very close, even if their bodies are completely close to each other. The opposite is also true.”
Although her early photos used a typical studio background, Kawaguchi shot the couple in their home and other indoor settings in “Fresh Love Returns”. Another series called “Jatsuran” has already seen him shrink couples with their wealth, from musical instruments to bicycles, such as “Foska Pack Dolls”.
Now that the whole house has been rolled up, he hopes to get bigger, like vacuum-packing the whole park. He hopes to explore “new artistic styles”, he added.
I’m also shooting a series called ‘Washing Machine’, “he said,” in which I put things in the washing machine. ”