Born in Tokyo in 1940, Nobuyoshi Araki is Japan’s most controversial but celebrated photographer. Instantly recognizable with his goggle-like glasses and an outlandish hairstyle which matches his personality, he is also one of the world’s most prominent photographers having published over 400 photography books to date.
Given a camera by his father at the age of twelve, Araki has been taking pictures ever since. He studied photography and film at Chiba University and went into commercial photography, working at one of Japan’s largest advertising firms, Dentsu. He met and married his wife Yoko and published a book of pictures of her taken during their honeymoon titled Sentimental Journey. She died in 1990. Pictures taken during her last days were published in a book titled Winter Journey which is one of his most famous photos.
Araki once said of this work and of his wife,
“If I hadn’t documented her death, both the description of my state of mind and my declaration of love would have been incomplete. I found consolation in unmasking lust and loss, by staging a bitter confrontation between symbols. After Yoko’s death, I didn’t want to photograph anything but life – honestly. Yet every time I pressed the button, I ended up close to death, because to photograph is to stop time.”
His many famous muses include Chiro, his feline cat, Yoko his deceased wife, Icelandic musician Bjork, the enigmatic Lady Gaga and the ubiquitously known sex symbol who was made famous by Araki himself, Kaori.
For me, he is someone who stood up to society’s expectations and did what he wanted to do. He is someone who listened to his true inner voice and followed his beliefs and passions while ignoring harsh criticism and the voices of others ; I respect him for that. Above all, he is someone who lives in the present moment and doesn’t worry about what tomorrow may bring; tomorrow may bring death but he is ready to embrace it.
Here is an extract from Takaishii gallery’s exhibition press release:
Turning 70 is a pivotal turning point for Nobuyoshi Araki. He has continued to produce works focusing on the theme of Ero (sex/life) and Thanatos (death). These two elements run along a parallel line and cannot be considered separate from one another. If Ero(s) is an essential “impulse for life”, in return Thanatos is an “impulse towards death” and is a portrayal of destructive instinct. Araki exists constantly within this realm of life and death.
From Araki’s work we gain a deep sense of love. As a result of his meticulous insistence on photographic portrayal, he has continued to “converse” with his subjects through the use of film. The “real world” viewed through Araki’s eyes, and his vision which penetrates both “the seeing” and the “being seen” breathes life into his work.
What has influenced his latest work is the recent death of his beloved cat, Chiro. After the death of his wife the two had continued their life together. The sense of loss and isolation as a result of losing the ones dear to him and feeling “death” close at hand, has lead Araki to a far deeper lust for life (sex). In embracing death there is an overflowing vitality and strengthened obsession towards life felt within his work. Life (sex) cannot exist without death.
Here’s Ontoshiki getting his Araki book signed by the living legend himself.