Nobuyoshi Araki is one of the most well-known figures of Japanese photography. His provocative output depicts both banal and deeply intimate subjects ranging from flowers and Tokyo street scenes to women's bodies, kinbaku-bi bondage, and his own biographical accounts. Araki's irreverence and preoccupation with sexually explicit content have frequently ignited controversy, yet he remains a celebrity in his native Japan, having published over 500 photobooks.Read More
Araki was born in Tokyo in 1940 and graduated from Chiba University in 1963 with a major in photography and film. He entered the field as a commercial photographer for the advertising firm Dentsu, pursuing his own artistic interests in his spare time. Around this period he began photographing local children in the Shitamachi neighbourhood of Tokyo—a run-down area that had largely escaped the urban reinvigoration of the city in the lead-up to the 1964 Olympics. s. Nobuyoshi Araki's photography series 'Satchin' (1964), which depicted the boisterous antics of children playing against the backdrop of pre-war apartment blocks, was later chosen for the Taiyo Award.
Growing increasingly dissatisfied with the limitations of his job, Araki began interacting with the creative proponents of Provoke magazine, including Daido Moriyama, identifying with the movement's rebellious spirit, although he objected to its self-serious nature.
In the late 1960s, two pivotal events occurred that would deeply influence Nobuyoshi Araki's photograph: the death of his father in 1967 and the meeting of his future wife, Yoko Aoki, in 1968. The dual themes of death and love are central to the artist's works. In 1971, he began documenting his honeymoon with Yoko—both its mundane and erotic moments.
He developed an autobiographical, deeply personal narrative mode of image-making, which he termed 'I-photography' (shi-shashin) in response to the 'I-novel' (shi-shōsetsu)—a confessional genre that dominated Japanese literature in the 20th century. The result was Nobuyoshi Araki's Sentimental Journey (1971), regarded by some as one of the most important Japanese photobooks of the 20th century.
Araki's unwavering vision and obsession with his own experiences—both sexual and otherwise—ran counter to the documentary impulse of post-war Japan, as well as the avantgarde aesthetics of the Provoke movement. His Pseudo-Reportage photobook (1980), which paired black and white images of female boxers and sex club scenes with dates related to the atomic bombings of WWII, pointed to the highly subjective nature of photography.
Nobuyoshi Araki's eroticised nudes, for which he is most infamous, violated Japanese prohibitions against the depiction of pubic hair, yet also contributed to the loosening of censorship laws upon photographers. He later movingly photographed his wife's battle with ovarian cancer and eventual death in 1990.
In 2008, Nobuyoshi Araki drew parallels between photography's decline and his diagnosis with cancer. In 2014, he staged Love on the Left Eye, which erased the right side of his photographs reflecting the blindness in his right eye. Araki is a recipient of the Austrian Decoration of Honor for Science and Arts (2008) and the 54th Mainichi Art Award (2012).
Araki, Musée National des Arts Asiatiques Guimet, Paris (2016); Nobuyoshi Araki Photobook Exhibition: Arākī, IZU PHOTO MUSEUM, Shizuoka (2012); NOBUYOSHI ARAKI: Self, Life, Death, The Barbican Art Gallery, London (2005); Hana-Jinsei, Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography (2003); Tokyo Still Life, Ikon Gallery, Birmingham (2001); Tokyo Comedy, Wiener Secession, Vienna (1997); Journal intime, Fondation Cartier pour l'art contemporain, Paris (1995).
Amy Weng | Ocula | 2021
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