I was fortunate enough today to get a 1:1 tutorial on rope works. Rope work can be very artistic and there is definitely a niche that some photographers can focus on. Rope work (Shibari) can date all of the way back to ancient Japan (1700) where the Samurai would use rope to restrain prisoners. When done well it can contrast very well using knots and geometric patterns with the bodies own curves.
The instructor was very clear that the most important thing about rope works not lighting, knot perfection, but rather COMMUNICATION with the subject. The subject depends upon the person (rigger) knowing how to tie the knots, but the rigger depends on the subject to continuously communicate with the rigger about numbness, pain, weakness, or other signs that something may not be just right. There needs to be a mutual trust between the rigger and the subject or serious injury may occur as a result of the tying process or weight bearing once the rope has been tied.
Types of rope may vary, but hemp is very common. When it is tied properly it will not move or knots will not shift position once stress is placed on the tied body part. It typically is very strong and will not stretch or break when used properly. Similar to hemp is a rope called Jute. It photographs well and generally handles knots as well as hemp.
Cotton rope is a natural fiber and can be died many colors. Unfortunately knots can compact very tightly and can be very difficult to untie which can be a problem in case of an emergency.
There are synthetic ropes (Polypropylene) that come in a variety of colors and the webbing may spread pressure over a larger area of a limb. The problem lies in the fact that this rope may slip or knots may change position due to coating on the rope. This MAY make it unsuitable for hitches, and potentially problematic for your subject. A variation of this is Zenith all purpose rope, which can be very smooth and comfortable for the subject. This type of rope may be more suitable for couples bondage but not recommended to anything weight bearing.
Whichever rope it used, there are proper methods of tying to avoid injuries to nerves, joints and muscles. A basic knowledge of anatomy and physiology is a must. Basic knot tying can be learned from a variety of sources including the following book
Knotty Boys from Amazon. However, it is best learned by actually attending a workshop with an experienced rigger so that you can ask questions and receive feedback relating to your knot techniques.
-Bob Barford is a published photographer is Southern PA.