Meet The Photographer Using Rope Bondage To Create Incredible Art

Art has a long history of drawing inspiration from the otherwise underground world of BDSM. The custom goes as far back as 1928, when the surrealist artist Man Ray captured an image of a woman sensually reclining while bound in ropes and a harness.

Robert Mapplethorpe famously stunned the '70s art establishment with his documentation of the S&M play flourishing in certain corners of the gay community. Acclaimed Japanese artist Nobuyoshi Araki made his name with graphic, intensely sexual, and often controversial images of Kinbaku-bi, the ancient Japanese art of “tight binding” or rope play. The list goes on and on...

Contemporary photographer Garth Knight both aligns with and breaks from this complicated tradition. A former engineering student, Knight pursues his lingering interest in forces and mechanisms by creating intricate sculptural rope forms in which human models hang.

(Photo: Garth Knight)

(Photo: Garth Knight)

While Knight also draws from the kinbaku tradition, his photographs are less corporal and titillating than Araki’s work or your typical bondage art. The focus of Knight's stunning and meticulous rope suspensions is more on transcendence than the human form.

Konbini spoke with Knight about his vivid rope worlds, his process, and whether he considers his work erotic. Read the full interview below!

Konbini: When did you begin drawing from bondage and shibari in your work? What attracted you to those worlds/forms?

Garth Knight: I have always had a strong affinity with line and had enjoyed playing with rope for practical purposes. In 1999, when I first saw a person being beautifully bound, it was like a revelation.

At that stage I wasn't particularly interested in or even really aware of erotic bondage, but just seeing the rope and the body combined aesthetically spoke very deeply to me and I knew I had to do it myself.

The mechanics of tying came quite naturally and very easily to me, but the emotional and psychological aspects of rope bondage took a long time to develop. I still feel like there are whole worlds to discover and cultivate in this respect.

There was no internet back then and Japanese rope art (shibari, or kinbaku) was also completely unknown to me. I just started playing around and for many years I was just teaching myself, developing my own style and stumbling around in the dark. When I became aware of kinbaku I was very attracted to it and started incorporating elements of it into my style, though I have always been very careful to make this symbiosis influential rather than a replication.

(Photo: Garth Knight)

(Photo: Garth Knight)

How has rope bondage influenced your art?

The more I've used rope and tying, the more I have learnt that my own place in this world is tenuous and unreal and a construct of my mind. This world is connection overlayed with connection which we try and make sense of by building patterns.

When you work with rope, you lay rope onto rope and connection onto connection making an extended and cumulative embrace, forming a vibrating web of touch on the body and in the surrounding space, the connectivity and flow of energy pulsing through the space and the body and our psyches.

It’s a very powerful and sometimes transcendent place to be. It’s compelling and overwhelming and sensual and hypnotic. To release yourself to these emotions, to be able to submit to this, is all facilitated by the constraint of the rope.

(Photo: Garth Knight)

(Photo: Garth Knight)

What does your process look like when you are making something like your Blood Consciousness or Vortex series? Who are your models? How long does it take you to finish one of your rope sculptures?

Ideas come mostly in daydreaming states, or while drawing, sketching. The end result is usually very process-driven: I make a start and the work develops organically. Working with the model is usually a very experimental process, working together to find their “place” in the work.

The rope used to tie someone takes up their energy, their sweat and skin and touch and experience. The models are a mixture of my friends and associates, as well as people contacting me who are interested in being part of this process. I choose people who intuitively feel right for that particular image, sometimes this just comes down to serendipity.

Each shoot takes place over several hours. The entire series takes many days to produce, normally stretched out over weeks or months.

(Photo: Garth Knight)

(Photo: Garth Knight)

Where do you draw or find inspiration? What other artists influence you? What do you draw specifically from the BDSM or bondage world?

The natural world with its constant infinite dance of order and chaos is always my greatest inspiration and ongoing fascination. I am attracted to bonsai and the constraint of form combined with simultaneously attempting to see and bring out the individual plants “true” being.

Surrealist artists like Dali and Man Ray set me on my path early. Escher, Odd Nerdrum, Andy Goldsworthy and Da Vinci are the kind of artists that also rate highly. From the kinbaku world, Kinoko and Kanna are two artists I really admire.

From BDSM specifically, I draw an interest in transcending the body and mind through the use of extreme sensation, and the use of physicality and eroticism as a pathway to awe.

(Photo: Garth Knight)

(Photo: Garth Knight)

Do you regard your work as erotic or sensual? What do you hope your work conveys about the human body, submission, and constraint? 

I’ve brought up a couple of times the erotic and sensual aspects, both in the process and final images, and I definitely find both of these things to be essential elements and integral parts of my work.

In the past, I have avoided talking too much about this aspect, partly because it’s definitely not the only thing the work is about and since it is such a powerful element in people’s perception it can cloud the other aspects. Mostly though I’ve come to realize it’s because I find it very confusing and difficult to extricate some meaningful description of that part of the work using words.

(Photo: Garth Knight)

(Photo: Garth Knight)

Hopefully, ultimately, I would like to convey that the human body is just a construct for the perception and interaction of the flow of energy which we call consciousness, which moves from the infinite collective unconscious through our momentary singular consciousness to learn and grow and then onto its ultimate dispersal into the collective super-consciousness.

This flow adds to some spiritual momentum which, once it reaches some critical level, will lead to the complete enlightenment of the One which contains us all. 

My mind tells me that this thought is ridiculous and just does not add up with what it sees and the physical reality that it has built and fastidiously maintains, and which we are so constrained by and invested in. And yet, when I submit myself entirely to the experience of the creation of art, I do believe this thought to be so.


More of Garth Knight's work can be found on his website. The "Blood Consciousness" and "Vortex" series are also available in full in Knight's new book


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