Photographer Hals’ Flesh Love captures shrink-wrapped couples, families – and their homes

Written by Oscar Holland, CNNYuki Kurihara, CNN

A family portrait taken by Haruhiko Kawaguchi comes with an unusual stipulation: that he wrap your entire house in plastic and then vacuum seal you in an airtight bag.

From there the Tokyo-based photographer has just seconds to capture the images he needs before releasing his breathless subjects.
The eye-catching images that Kawaguchi describes as a “family souvenir” as part of his ongoing “Flesh Love” series, a nearly two-decade long quest to explore human intimacy by shrink-wrapping people in plastic.

“When I started the series, I asked some of my closest friends to test how long they could hold their breath and found it was about 15 seconds,” Kawaguchi said via video call from Okinawa, Japan. “So I decided to set a ’10 second rule’ where I open the bag after 10 seconds, regardless of whether (I took the picture) or not.”

Kawaguchi custom-made giant sheets of plastic to encase entire homes, including trees and vehicles.

Kawaguchi custom-made giant sheets of plastic to encase entire homes, including trees and vehicles. Credit: photographer shark

Beginning with intimate images of lovers trapped in sealable bags that were once used to store futons, his photos have since grown in scope. In the latest installation of his series entitled “Flesh Love All”, the photographer wraps couples or families and the places that are most important to them – usually their homes, complete with trees, cars and motorcycles – in custom-made plastic sheets.

Dubbed Photographer Hal, a nod to the talking computer in Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odysseysaid Kawaguchi, his photos are mostly about love. And while his focus has shifted from the sexual to the familial, his goal remains the same: to depict human connections in their many forms.

“(The more recent photos) carry a message of connectedness to the outside world and express love for all equally,” he said, adding, “We put everything in the background to represent the social connection the subjects have to the outside world , not just for himself.”

It can take two weeks to create the custom wraps and set up a single image, while the final photoshoot requires the help of about seven people. An assistant is always ready to open the bags – or cut them open in an emergency – if the photographer is unable to do so. He also has a portable oxygen tank and a spray to keep subjects cool during hot summer photo shoots.

For his earlier series "meat love returns," Kawaguchi asked couples to pose for photos in places that were meaningful to them.

For his earlier series, Flesh Love Returns, Kawaguchi asked couples to pose for photos in places that mattered to them. Credit: photographer shark

Kawaguchi admitted that some people “feel claustrophobic” when looking at his photos. And he knows all too well how suffocating it feels to be locked in one of the airtight bags – having tried it himself.

“When I was in the bag, I felt like my life and death were completely controlled by others,” he said. “I could literally feel my subjects entrusting their lives to me.”

When two become one

The series goes back to when Kawaguchi was a commercial photographer in his 20s. With little free time to produce his own work, he took his camera to gigs and nightclubs, often photographing young couples.

“I found couples very attractive subjects because they were full of joy, anger, sadness and happiness,” he said. “As I watched her, I also felt that there was a connection between the physical and emotional distance between two people.”

Kawaguchi found volunteers among his friends (and friends of friends) and began Flesh Love to “visualize the intimacy and love between couples,” he said. The photographer worked with the subjects to find positions that would eliminate the gaps between their oiled — and sometimes completely nude — bodies before using a vacuum to remove air from the bag.

The photographer said it's fitting to bring couples together "like a jigsaw puzzle."

The photographer said that putting pairs together was “like a jigsaw puzzle.” Credit: photographer shark

“I ask my subjects to rehearse their poses over and over again and then recreate the chosen ones in the bag,” he said, saying it was like he was “putting them together like a jigsaw puzzle.”

Kawaguchi said he was inspired by Plato’s “The Symposium,” in which the philosopher said men and women were once separate beings, with four arms, four legs, and two faces, before the Greek god Zeus split them in half.

“Packaging subjects in a bag was just a by-product,” said the photographer. “The main purpose of my art is to bring two people who love each other back into one.

“I still don’t know exactly what love is, but I don’t think it’s all about distance,” he added. “Surprisingly, I sometimes get the feeling that the subjects don’t seem very intimate, even when their bodies are very close together. This also applies vice versa.”

While his early photos used a simple studio background, in Fresh Love Returns Kawaguchi photographed couples in their homes and other indoor settings. Meanwhile, in another series called Zatsuran, he sealed couples with their belongings, ranging from musical instruments to bicycles, like “dolls in a blister pack,” he said.

Now that he’s wrapped whole houses, he’s hoping to do even bigger things, like vacuum-packing an entire park. He also hopes to explore “new artistic styles,” he added.

I’m also doing a series called ‘Washing Machines,'” he said, “where I put the subjects in the washing machines.”

https://www.cnn.com/style/article/photographer-hal-flesh-love/index.html Photographer Hals’ Flesh Love captures shrink-wrapped couples, families – and their homes

Charles Jones

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