Japanese photographer Nobuyoshi Araki has caused some stirs in his notoriously conservative home country, where more than a few choice words – misogynist, pornographer, pervert, monster - have been used to describe him. Now the most provocative volume of his oeuvre, ‘Kinbaku’, is the focus of a solo exhibition at London's Michael Hoppen Gallery.

The body of work takes its name from the Japanese sexual practice of bondage, kinbaku or kinbaku-ki (literally meaning the beauty of tight binding), which found cult popularity in the 1950s thanks to underground S&M magazines like Yomikiri Romance and Kitan Club. Less appreciated however is that kinbaku draws influence from less salacious art forms, such as Kabuki theatre, Shiatsu massage and Ikebana, the 700 year-old Japanese art of flower arranging.

Araki’s detractors are all too quick to dismiss his work as pornography masquerading behind the guise of contemporary art. There is – even in the splayed legs and unapologetic display of genitalia – a romantic nuance to his treatment of kinbaku, however confrontational the subject matter.

From his painterly use of colour (electrifyingly rich in one instance; muted and ethereal in another) to his impeccable eye for composition, his photographs exude an undeniable magnetism. ‘Women? Well, they are gods,’ says Araki of his enduring fascination with women. ‘Since I can’t tie up their hearts up, I tie their bodies instead.’

Alongside his nudes, displayed in a striking range of sizes from monumental prints to demure Polaroids, the gallery has hung a series of original 18th and 19th century Shunga prints – an early form of clandestine erotica. The exhibition coincides with the recent publication of Taschen’s three-volume monograph, ‘Bondage’.

For all his brazenness, there is an underlying sensitivity to Araki’s intent and an obvious devotion to his craft. ‘Photography is love and death – that’ll be my epitaph,’ adds Araki. And much like any art form, whether it’s flowers or rope being arranged, the pleasure of Araki’s work lies in the journey as much as the destination.

TAGS: MICHAEL HOPPEN GALLERY, SEX