LA LETTRE DE LA PHOTOGRAPHIE
Nobuyoshi Araki: 100 unpublished photos
Japan’s most famous dirrrrrty photo documentarian, Nobuyoshi Araki, now at 70 is back working his youthful mojo with an exhibition of about 100 freshly discovered and unpublished works shot around 1965. Hidden for over 40 years in a Fuji bromide paper box marked “Theater of Love,” the cabinet size black and white images reveal the remarkable consistency of this captivating provocateur.
Araki was about 25 when he created the show’s prints. He was working as an in-house commercial photographer for Dentsu, the Japanese advertising agency. After photographing the products of the day, he’d use the company darkroom to experiment. There, he developed the first black and white slices of his daily life in chaotic, free stories. Women were the protagonists paged between curious objects, gritty city scenes and glimpses of urban nature. The old images are a pure Araki; spontaneous and unposed. “I would photograph women I met by chance,” he reveals. “There are a lot of similarities between my old and recent works.”
In the show, Araki reveals hints of his future development including his lifelong obsession with women in their most intimate and revealing moments. Among the images of a lesbian couple making love in a ‘love hotel’ and scenes at home, his eye appears curious and probing but more peeping tom than pornographic. The ‘porno-bondage master’ and misogynist labels would come later, from about 1979, when he had sharpened his showman skills.
Araki writes in the catalogue: “Back then I used to click away with my Olympus Pen F, making patchy prints using thermal development on purpose; the women, the era, and the place are all photographed there. It’s all expressed. So, I used to say ‘Theater of Love’ back then, eh. Well, anyway, it’s good, huh, they are good photos. This sort of thing isn’t going to happen on digital.”
His passion for photography was first inspired by his father, a skilled amateur. Just after the war when their area was bombed out and the residents desperately poor, the senior Araki was the official neighborhood volunteer snapper, taking pictures at local events and schools — including his son’s junior high school class.
Araki’s subject matter has been inspired and fueled by Yoshiwara, where he grew up. It is the infamous, centuries-old red light district of Tokyo until World War II. For generations, his family was the geta (wooden clog) maker for the area’s prostitutes. Across the street from the family home and shop there still stands a temple and its ‘graveyard of whores’ so called because of a kindly priest who cremated and enshrined the abandoned bodies of poor prostitutes and the untouchable caste dumped in a nearby cesspool.
Araki’s unusual stomping ground has been excellent fodder for his outrageous and sexist remarks including his unforgettable statement that, “all women are whores.” In the same breath he has said he buried his mother and wife in a ’whore’s graveyard.’ In truth, they would have been buried there regardless, because it is his family’s neighborhood temple and graveyard. And, digging deeper, it’s possible Araki is not quite the sexist he appears to be. His carefully crafted, bad-boy image could simply be a way to get maximum attention from the press. So who is the real Araki?
Fans say he uses the radical statements as a satire on the everyday sexism of male Japan. That in fact, he is a harmless trickster, and really a gentle, affectionate romantic. The photographic memorials he created for his wife Yoko, who died of uterine cancer in 1990 and his 20-year-old cat are part of this loving picture. In an interview with Nan Goldin in 1995, she writes, “… Araki crosses the line between pornography and art. His work is colored by love, and meant as homage—to women and to beauty and to his own desires.”
While leafing through the “Theater of Love” catalogue at a recent gathering of friends and admirers, Araki shares a poignant, sentimental thought: “It’s really not the photographs that are important so much as the memories they portray. It’s the remembering I want.”
“Finally, Araki himself has become the topic of his photography,” says Taka Ishii, owner of the gallery. His most recent book titled, “Tokyo Radiation” is a 9-day photo journey of his treatment for prostrate cancer in a hospital last year. “Although he’s been documenting in a similar style for 45 years, he’s so unique. It’s difficult to label him.”
Indeed Araki is one-of-a-kind, with about 350 published books and numerous film projects documenting memories, shocking and sublime. Now that he is revisiting the oldest of those in this vintage show, it will be interesting to see if this veteran snapper and cancer survivor will break out of his hot shocker mold and celebrate a cool new passion — perhaps a return to his deepest roots.
Until March 26
“Theater of Love”
Taka Ishii Gallery Photography/Film
Photo by Artus
Original Post: Nobuyoshi Araki: 100 unpublished photos