Nobuyoshi Araki

Frozen zones

Eros is the artist's best friend. Images of the erotic are to be encountered in artworks ever since man started to use art as a means of reflecting on the condition humaine. As a rule, an artwork tends to be a melding of the private and the public. In the visual arts, the motif of “painter and model” demonstrates this aptly. Poets, too, seldom refrain from expressing the most intimate of experiences in literature. Indeed, in the process they often overstep the boundaries of good taste. Those contemporaries who are not shocked to the very marrow instead grant such artists a cult status and later generations consider such artworks classics.

Nobuyoshi Araki is widely considered a chronicler of modern Japan where he enjoys the sort of following normally accorded pop stars. Araki works obsessively, finding almost of all his subjects and motifs in Tokyo. Many of his photos have erotic contents – most of them are outrageous. His sadomasochistic portraits of women and detailed shots of sex organs penetrate tabooed areas and delicately tread a fine line between art and pornography. The driving force behind these pictures is the search for artistic truth. To be more exact, the search for Araki’s own truth. In 1971, he published a photographic diary on his honeymoon with his wife Yoko. One of the passages in the book holds an important key to his work. In it his wife speaks of the photographer as the author of a novel written in the first person, in which he himself takes the role of protagonist.

But as in all autobiographical concepts, it is the stylized form of the photos that plays the crucial role. Araki’s libidinal snapshots do not show some unadulterated reality, but rather a world full of ciphers, metaphors and symbols. The repeated intermingling of lizards, cats, plants, cloud formations and bodies of naked women are elements drawn from the cold catalogue of purported eroticism that Western eyes can only skim the surface of. Not until you look more closely will you discern that Araki’s photographs are more in tune with the tradition of still lives than with exhibitionistic self-exposure.

Biographical information

1940

born in Tokyo

1963

graduated from the Department of Engineering at Chiba University,
majors: photography and film-making (B.A.)
starts work with Dentsu Advertising Agency

lives and works in Tokyo