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The Kitan Club: Strange Stories & Curious Tales

The most iconic of all S&M magazines would have to be The Kitan Club (1947-1975). It was a dark, powerful and often sinister Japanese fetish magazine that combined multinational photography with highly imaginative graphic illustration and fiction. Strong production values and attention to craft has made it a sought after collectable.

There is a phrase in Japan “beauty in suffering”; it’s this phrase that separates the Eastern and Western ideas of BDSM (Bondage, Discipline, Sadism and Masochism). If The Kitan Club appears to be a study of torture, it’s because the terms sadism and masochism weren’t around in Japan until the Western influence of the 1950s. Japanese culture has a strong tradition in this study of torture. And it’s worth keeping in mind that Japanese practices and this magazine were about the release of emotion in this context of pain.

It’s also important to realise that the Korean War was from 1950 to 1953 and this pushed Western culture and Japanese culture together in a particular way. The confluence of these forces on both societies had an influence on our Western experiences in photography and illustration through work from people like John Willie, Eric Stanton and Irving Klaw.

What does surprise me to some degree is the way people view an Araki bondage or fetish photograph versus a Kitan Club photograph. This magazine was on sale at the time Araki was learning photography through to the beginning part of his artistic career. There is no denying that much of his work was heavily influenced by The Kitan Club. However, Araki appears not to pursue the traditional Japanese element of torture in his work; replaced by enjoyment and hedonism. And an insatiable greed for the experience of sensation.

It’s fine to not like The Kitan Club. True, it’s an unsettling magazine to appreciate. But others might look back in future decades and criticise our time in history for the glorification of murder porn and sanitised crime in mainstream media. Not to mention our access to every manner of sexual and violent ephemera on the Internet. We really have no high moral ground from a cultural perspective.

However, the most important reason to be aware of this magazine is simply because an understanding of photographic history (or image history in general) is such a key component of understanding the images that you choose to make with your own camera and mind. Just some food for thought.

Kitan Club Issue 7, 1952 cover

Kitan Club Issue 8, 1952 cover

Japanese woman bound and being choked from behind

Japanese woman bound and gagged with underpants over her head

Japanese woman bound and hanging by her feet by roof pulley

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About the Author

Steven Clark Steven Clark - the stand up guy on this site

My name is Steven Clark (aka nortypig) and I live in Southern Tasmania. I have an MBA (Specialisation) and a Bachelor of Computing from the University of Tasmania. I'm a photographer making pictures with film. A web developer for money. A business consultant for fun. A journalist on paper. Dreams of owning the World. Idea champion. Paradox. Life partner to Megan.

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