From "EroReal," 2013
RP direct print, paper size: 61 x 50.8 cm
© Nobuyoshi Araki, Courtesy of Taka Ishii Gallery, Tokyo
Last week, I had the privilege of introducing some old photographs by a legendary Japanese photographer who’s only just recently becoming known outside of his home country. This week, I have the privilege of introducing some new photographs by a legendary Japanese photographer who’s already been a world icon for quite some time. At the age of 73, Nobuyoshi Araki is still pushing out work at an incredible rate. Indeed, as the old saying goes, there are only a few things you can be certain of in this world: death, taxes, and new Araki photographs.
As he does every May 25 (on his birthday), he’s put up a new exhibit at Tokyo’s Taka Ishii Gallery, “EroReal.” Araki rarely ever surprises with his material, but there’s something new happening here. Araki is known outside of Japan primarily as a pornographer—at least, that’s how I used to think of him—but I think his photography often goes beyond cheap thrills. Araki is a self-described photographic machine, to the point that his constant photographing is like breathing. Of course we can see that his photos are very personal, in that they reflect certain of his obsessions: the plastic dinosaur figures that appear in a number of these photos have been showing up in Araki’s images (in a variety of situations) for years. Araki often photographs the same people, or situations; it’s worth noting that, aside from his prolific nude work, he also regularly publishes PG-rated books of daily snapshots.
What’s new this time is that Araki has taken a somewhat darker turn. He’s always thought of his work in terms of life’s biggest questions —his photographs of the death of his beloved cat certainly show this—and after a battle with prostate cancer, it seems likely that he’s thinking about death a little more. Still, I’m not sure that I’ve ever seen something so disturbing in an Araki photograph as the beady-eyed raccoon doll that he’s put together. The dolls with severed limbs don’t particularly lighten the mood, either.