Romain Slocombe’s Broken Dolls

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The French artist’s challenging and unsettling medical art photography.

Remember for a moment that first crush – the point of sexual awareness and hopeless love, be it requited or otherwise. What do you remember of that person? The face, the hair, the smell, the walk, the voice? Then imagine that the person in question had just broken their leg when you first fell for them? What might you remember then? The plaster and the crutches, perhaps? It would be a very striking image at that pivotal moment, after all.

If that moment had then become an actual fetish – the sort of thing that plays on your mind continually and becomes part of your sexual DNA – then perhaps you would be like Romain Slocombe, the French artist, writer and photographer who has made something of an artform of picturing exclusively Japanese girls (and so we can assume that Japanese girls are also a sexual preference for him) in bandages, plaster casts, slings, wheelchairs, braces and crutches – the medical paraphernalia associated with accident and injury.

Slocombe, born in 1953, spent much of the 1990s producing photographs and paintings that display a medical fetish – the aftermath of Ballard’s Crash, perhaps. Certainly, there is a Cronenbergian edge to his work as it turns the hospital into the fetish dungeon, the bandages and plaster casts into bondage restraints as his models stare blankly, perhaps defiantly at the camera.

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His ‘medical art diary 1993 – 1996’, City of Broken Dolls, is perhaps his best known work for many, having been published by Creation Books at the peak of their powers. This work is only a part of Slocombe’s long career that includes working for Heavy Metal and writing novels, but of course it is his most immediately striking and challenging. We have to question if this is erotica. If so, why? and equally, if not, why?

Certainly, the fetish for the medical and the surgical is well established, and it truth it’s not too far removed from ideas of bondage, submission and dominance. But this imagery is confrontational in a way that more traditional BDSM isn’t, if only because it conjures up familiar, relatable fears for anyone who has ever been in hospital or had to cover an injury with plasters – and that is surely all of us. For that reason, Slocombe’s work remains challenging and disturbing for many in ways that more traditional and openly erotic bondage imagery doesn’t – it is more primal and unsettling – especially, I would imagine, for those who do find it erotic.

DAVID FLINT

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