With the recent ‘Astrid And The Exis’ piece came the realisation that this was, over 100 posts in, the first time I’d focused on a photographer. I thought I’d better begin to address this accidental omission, and pay more props to the still image, starting off with the controversial Tokyo photographer Nobuyoshi Araki, now in his seventies, whose medium ranges from global art galleries to the pages of readers wives type porno mags (which brings to mind what Alan Moore said about the difference between erotica and pornography being largely dependent on the income bracket of the buyer).
I first came across Araki via the 1995 Channel 4 documentary, ‘Fake Love’. I found the old VHS I’d recorded it on and watched it again recently. I was reminded how the narrator, Alexandra Gilbreath, had been uneasy about his photographs, her tone quite condemning as his work left her cold. Although she was aware that he plays a game, it’s one she felt he took too far. What was interesting is that it was apparent that whilst the narrator and some of the other female contributors to the documentary, all Western, found his photography derogatory towards women, Japanese women on the contrary seemed to find it liberating. As the American photographer Nan Goldin stated, ‘you can’t look at Araki’s work and understand it from a Western perspective, he is actually freeing these women to express their own desires’.
His work is certainly provocative, and he’s never shied away from the taboos, not least with the Japanese bondage photography which has gained him many admirers and detractors. It’s the artist’s job to push our buttons, which is what Araki revels in. On the surface you’ll find an unashamedly dirty old man, but that’s just the surface, that’s but the role he plays. Dig a bit deeper and you’ll discover a prolific artist whose range of work is simply staggering, with hundreds of photographic books published. Special mention to ‘Sentimental Journey’ (1971), a collection of shots taken during his honeymoon with wife Yōko, and ‘Sentimental Journey / Winter Journey’(1991), which updates the original book, documenting her final days, leading up to her death in 1990. It was at this point that a lot of people sat up and took notice of him for the first time – the tragedy would be the catalyst for his oncoming celebrity status as Japan’s most famous / infamous photographer.
The themes of sex and death are central to his art, ‘I want to take photos that blend sex and death’ he says, ‘these two desires are inseparable’. This is what he feels makes his work distinctive, ‘glimpsing death and sex, and sex and death’.
This photograph of Yōko from ‘Sentimental Journey’ took on a whole new meaning following her untimely passing two decades on. What was originally a snapshot of her peacefully sleeping in the boat suddenly became symbolic of a journey to death, Yōko’s foetal positioning suggesting a return to the beginning – it’s as though she’s crossing the River Styx on her ferry ride to the other side.
Araki’s work became better known in the West following the session he did for Björk’s album ‘Telegram’ (1996), and more recently his bondage shots of Lady Gaga, which, rather than shocking peoples’ sensibilities, have been greeted with much acclaim, and have also, of course, brought his name deeper into the mainstream of Western popular culture.
The short 13 minute piece linked here, ‘Contacts: Nobuyoshi Araki’, provides a real insight and a great introduction to his work. I should mention that it includes some nude shots, so you might want to be careful where you view.
For further exploration the Travis Klose documentary film ‘Arakimentari’ (2004) is highly recommended.
Nobuyoshi Araki Wikipedia: