Sam Francis

Untitled, 1984

106.7 X 73 inch

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The Perky Ruminations of Nobuyoshi Araki: Highlights and Photographs from an Eros Diary

The Perky Ruminations of Nobuyoshi Araki: Highlights and Photographs from an Eros Diary

By Andrew Bay, UK


Nobuyoshi Araki's infatuation with women is plain to see and permeates his entire body of work. The photographer casually travels the world surrounded by an eclectic entourage of talented and beautiful collaborators: agents, managers, models and personal assistants; all of them, delightful and polite Japanese ladies, dressed in elegant designers suits or traditional kimonos. In fact, they look very similar to the thousands of women portrayed in the artist's photographs. 

Araki's never been a stranger to controversy. He is undoubtedly Japan’s most iconic photographer, and although he is essentially known in the West for his erotic prints, in Japan he is highly regarded as an ingenious documentary filmmaker and an accomplished craftsman. Araki has published more than 400 books, mostly exploring the crowded landscapes of Tokyo. They reveal the hidden immorality and dissoluteness of society at the peak of its economic powers but without an otherworldly, transcendent psychological dimension. In his poignant 1971 book, "Sentimental Journey," Araki chronicles with heart-rending photographs, the story of his marriage to his first wife, from their honeymoon to her untimely death in 1990. But although the scope of Araki's work exceeds the confines of his obsession with eroticism, it is also undoubtedly sex, that fuels his creative engines, and it is the entry point to his entire oeuvre.

Araki readily admits that the impulse for food, instinctual sexual drive and his love for photography are the most defining aspects of his life. His pictures are riddled with explicit, almost adolescent-like sexual intimations and overtones. His approach reflects the eagerness of an expert practitioner of voyeurism. Under  Araki’s lens, even the uneventful daily humdrum is transformed into eroticism. It’s all the same whether he is shooting the city skyline or a nude portrait. Particularly in the case of his depiction of women, Araki always successfully represents his relationship with the subject; he rolls the dice, in hope that he will be able to capture that moment, a combination of seizing the model, in relation to his feelings, at a given point in time. 

As Araki says in his own words: "I converse as I shoot, if the conversation is the melody, the sound of the shutter is the rhythm."
His intention is to capture human life itself, in all its imperfections and contradictions,  but also in its playful introspections and creations. This process is a unique characteristic of Japanese literature, where the author is traditionally expected to reveal all there is to know about themselves. But for Araki, the artist himself is a work of fiction, and the line between fantasy,  fiction and reality is methodically blurred. In that sense "Housewife Eros" is a beautiful homage in photographs, to the bravery and bodies of the thousands of women running in the back of Araki's restless mind and featured in the photographer's Polaroids; This is a masterpiece of naked  Japanese arms, fingers and faces, holding on to 1000 cameras at once. In "Colour-Eros," black and white nude pictures, are discoloured with acrylics and playful colour lines.  
Araki wants to make everything come to that point, a single truth that is almost like a hallucination, multiple lines, living with the passage of time, and the sudden surge of life symbolised by colour and death, in black and white. In Japanese culture, there is no real separation between high art and popular art as in the West. Therefore Araki's photographs depict everything and anything; garbage trucks, late-night diners, skyscrapers, pornography, debauchery. Hundreds of Polaroid images of Japanese women, accidental bystanders caught in the volcanic eruption of Araki's unconscious sexual fantasies, on everyday monochrome Tokyo streets. 

 

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