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Shibari: the Art of Rope Bondage

BDSM like you’ve never seen it before

When we hear ‘BDSM’, we often think of whips, chains and, let’s be honest, Christian Grey. A lot of the beauty of the BDSM practice is buried under false impressions, and perhaps for this reason, the art of Shibari has flown under the radar.

We spoke to Jesse Flanagan, a 34-year-old fetish photographer and Shibari rigger, to find out more about Shibari.

shibari

How long have you been a fetish photographer and rigger?
I’ve been doing fetish photography for about five years now, and rigging for about three years.

What exactly is a rigger?
A rigger is the person who does the tying in a rope-bondage scene, usually with the implication that the person also does rope suspension. You’ll also hear terms like “top” and “bottom”, which mean “the person doing the tying” and “the person being tied”, respectively.

What is Shibari?
Shibari is the art of tying somebody up with rope for a shared positive experience of some kind. Using the Japanese term “Shibari” instead of “rope bondage” usually just means you draw your inspiration from Japanese riggers and their aesthetic as opposed to Western practitioners.

There are a multitude of different reasons people seek out being bound. Some people just like the aesthetic of it. Similar to body painting, it’s something that only exists in that point in time on that particular person. It’s bespoke temporary rope art.

It’s fun in combination with sex. Being able to put a harness on somebody and get a usable handle, or to put somebody’s legs in the right space means your options are opened up.

Some people find solace in the act of being bound. If you find the idea of a weighted blanket appealing, you might like to be bound. I like to joke that it’s like adult swaddling.

For rope suspension, in particular, some people just really like the experience of not being on the ground for a while. There’s a sense of flying that very few other things can get you.

Primarily, though, I would say most people are drawn to the BDSM aspects of rope bondage: power exchange, sadomasochistic play, connection and so on. There are many fun and creative ways to inflict pain or put people in uncomfortable or compromising positions with rope.

You can have a very intense, connective experience with the right partner. I think, ultimately, that’s what people seek out.

shibari

What drew you to photographing Shibari?
I would have to say the creative expression it allowed me. I started doing photography before I started doing rope. I was getting tired of shooting other people’s work: be it makeup, wardrobe, etc. Putting rope on the model allowed me to exert my own creative outlet on top of the photography itself, and my passion for the art form grew from there.

What are some of the most common fears or concerns women have when trying Shibari for the first time?
It depends on the context and the individual, but getting injured is probably high up on the list. Rope bondage can be dangerous. To help mitigate that risk, get tied up by people who know what their limits are, educate yourself on what common injury patterns look like, keep a good line of communication open with your top partner, and just listen to what your body is telling you. Clover manages a very good educational resource that goes into more details on this – you can find it here.

shibari

What, do you feel, is the biggest misconception about Shibari and what do you wish people knew?
Probably the biggest misconception is that Shibari is always all about sex. It can be to some individuals, but it isn’t to everybody. I, for one, don’t have sex with the vast majority of people I tie up – even when it’s for fun instead of for a photoshoot. For me, it’s more about getting a positive reaction out of the person I’m tying up.

A lot of people have the misconception that getting tied up is only for people they see in popular BDSM media: namely, thin, young women. Pretty much anybody, regardless of age, gender, or body type, can be tied up and have a good experience.

I wish there weren’t so many negative preconceptions about consensual BDSM play in general – it’s not inherently abusive – the people who partake in it do not have mental disorders, and so on.

shibari

How can those who are interested in exploring Shibari go about it?
For people seeking to be tied, the best way is to get on a site like Fetlife.com and find a local social or educational group to learn from and to seek out play partners.

For those wanting to learn how to tie, my recommendation would be to get some hands-on instruction from somebody who knows what they’re doing. There is a lot of nuance and specific safety instructions that are usually left out of online resources and tutorial videos. For women who want to learn how to tie, the international organisation Hitchin’ Bitches is a good group to seek out. Just try and stay safe out there while having fun.’

To see more of Jesse’s photography, follow him on Instagram here.

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