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Araki Nobuyoshi



Wiktor Komorowski


You say Nobuyoshi Araki – you mean prints. A whole lot of prints. Polaroid, but not only. The prints include dead flowers, rubber dinosaurs, and accidental shots of the landscape. Vedutas. Lots of vedutas. And women. Naked women. Hundreds, even thousands, of naked women. In lascivious positions. Some were tied, and some were dressed in traditional kimonos. They all seem to have been photographed as if there was a psychopath with a machine gun instead of a photographer behind the lens.


Visions of a coarse man, or rather, as Ulrich Baer would say, a hysteria of the snapshot. Araki takes pictures of virtually everything all the time. They are often taken by accident, and exposing subsequent roll films appears to be a kind of compulsive behavior in his case. But does he do it unwittingly? Definitely not. Araki can put his models and elaborate still lifes made of random objects into frames for long hours. This whole chaotic process is governed by strong emotions and, most importantly, these emotions can influence the viewers.


Aporia of Photography


After coming into contact with the works of the Japanese, we experience a whole range of emotions, including surprise, excitement, melancholy, disgust, and ultimately anxiety. However, it is a unique kind of tension that is connected to a feeling of confusion, suspense. A characteristic feature of Araki's photographs is a peculiar timelessness that makes them seem as though they could have been made today as well as a hundred years ago. Due to the uncertainty of time and place, it appears as though we are dealing with a fragment of dystopia-"non-place" and "non-time"-that has been captured through the use of the lens. The ambiguous emotional charge that is concealed in the exposed photo frames compels us to embark on a journey into ourselves and explore the depths of our own passion, fear, and desire. Araki's photographic practices carry something sinister as well as purifying. It is probably the deeply personal nature of each Japanese photographer's shot that causes the catharsis effect. Undoubtedly, his most important and, at the same time, most personal series is the cycle of photos featuring Araki's wife, Yōko. After graduation, Araki started working as a photographer at the advertising agency "Dentsu", where in 1968 he met his future wife, Yōko Aoki, whom he married in 1971. The newlyweds went on a honeymoon, during which Araki began experiments with intimate photography. These explorations led to the creation of a photo journal, which was released under the title "Sentimental Journey" the following year. This album included a number of deeply personal photographs documenting the time they spent together, including the most private moments



In the context of Araki's activities, a characteristic Japanese literary genre known as "I-novel" (shishōsetsu, watashi-shōsetsu, watakushi-shōsetsu) is frequently mentioned. This genre was created in Japan at the end of the Meiji era (1868–1922), under the influence of the growing popularity of naturalism in Europe. It is assumed that the first two "I-novels" were "Hakai" ("The Broken Commandment"), written in 1906 by Tōson Shimazaki, and "Futon" ("The Quilt"), created in 1907 by Katai Tayama. In "Hakai", Shimazaki tells the tale of Ushimatsu Segawa, a young man from the marginalized social group called burakumin, which historically included beggars, vagrants, and prisoners, as well as people doing the so-called unclean professions. However, the main character of Shimazaki's book was able to advance socially and land a job as a teacher. Because of his past struggles, the hero carries with him the desire to disobey his father's commandment, which forbade him from disclosing his true ancestry. Despite the ban, Segawa makes an effort to clear himself of the past burden and find acceptance from others, including one activist advocating for the Burakumin people, to whom he ultimately decides to reveal his origin story.


The protagonist of Tayama's "Futone" is Tokyo Takenaka, a writer and teacher who is trapped in an unhappy marriage. Takenaka agreed to become a homestay teacher for a student who is a lot younger than him, and he soon falls in love with her. The protagonist, however, is forced to hide his emotions out of concern for social ostracism, which later develops into grotesque jealousy when his student meets a young boy. Out of disappointment, he expels the student from the homestay, and she returns to her family home. The eponymous quilt, which his ward slept under while she was staying at his home, is where Takenaka hides his tearful face in the final pages of the tale of this tragic love.



I - Araki


The I-novel, much like Araki's works, very often directly describes the darker sides of society, addressing the most complex aspects of Japanese life, which are often considered taboo in the culture of the Far East. Another similarity between I-novels and Araki's works is that both are based primarily on autobiographical threads. An I-novel typically emphasizes the first-person narrative and is a fictionalized diary from the author's life. This brings to mind a very intriguing aspect of the Japanese language, which has a number of words that all mean "I" (ore, boku, shōsei, atashi, watashi, watakushi). The abundance of pronouns is meant to help distinguish the context in which the speaker finds himself or herself. The word "watashi" (わたし), for instance, will be understood as a polite or formal way of addressing yourself in a conversation. However, using the word "ore" (俺) in a conversation with your boss could lead to an amicable termination of your employment contract. Interestingly, 72% of Japanese people use the word "ore" (俺) when talking to friends in an informal situation. However, more than 60% of the same men will use the word "boku" (僕) when speaking to a stranger. Conversely, up to 75% of Japanese women will say "watashi" (わたし) when speaking to a stranger. This Japanese modality of the first-person narrative is clearly visible in Araki's photographs. When we confront ourselves with photos depicting naked or bound women, we look at them through the eyes of Araki-coarse man. Other times, we admire lovely still lifes, we look at compositions created by none other than Araki-sensitive man. The first-person narrative contains a significant amount of egocentricity, a quality reserved for the greatest creators. In the case of Araki, artistic egocentrism was exacerbated, and the photographer actively worked to elevate himself to the status of a 20th-century pop culture icon. Successfully, indeed. The figure of Araki is connected with the emergence of a fan subculture made up of his admirers who don't just collect his photographs but also closely follow his personal life and refer to the artist's work as "Ararchy."

…in the Heart of a sensitive man


The presented photograph can be interpreted as a record of one of the scenes from Araki's I-novel. This work belongs to a series of almost 400 photographs, which were assembled in a publication entitled "Blind Love" (1999). This catalog highlights a selection of Araki's work's most characteristic themes, from naked figures to haphazard objects scattered across a balcony. This photonovel has 17 chapters and is devoted to the writer Junichiro Tanizaki and Sophie Calle, a French photographer. Tanizaki was a unique figure in Japanese culture, and his writing style juggled his love for European literature with a steadfast adherence to Japanese cultural patterns, which largely correspond to Araki's art. Tanizaki was interested in aestheticism, which as a cultural current that stood in opposition to Japanese naturalism. Additionally, his fascination with Satanism and European dandyism served as a contact point in his art. Tanizaki wore suits and played the guitar like the European dandies, dreaming constantly that one day Tokyo, which had been completely destroyed by the earthquake in 1923, would be rebuilt in the western style. He established himself as a scandalist with his first book, "The Tattoo" ("Shisei", 1910). This book tells the sadomasochistic tale of a tattoo artist who wanted to tattoo a painting on a model's body. Colorful descriptions of Tokyo's entertainment district life adorned the contrast between brutality and exotic beauty.


In the case of "Blind Love", Sophie Calle's art, the exact opposite of Tanizaki, was the second inspiration. The fragility of human existence is a recurring theme in Calle's artwork, and the artist herself rose to fame for her artistic and detective practices, which involved following strangers and taking pictures of their random behaviors. Calle frequently and accurately described the nature of her creative endeavors and assembled them into real programs that she featured in the compositions of her works. Later, they served as a record of the actual process of producing the work. Her works were distinguished by voyeurism and processuality, two characteristics that are also present in Araki's work. Such a contrasting combination of Tamizaki's activities and Calle's work was only possible in the mind of Araki, a photographer with an entirely unconventional sensitivity.