Prolific and contentious, Nobuyoshi Araki is a pioneer in “private photography” and has delved into themes surrounding sex, death and domination. Exemplified by up-close, personal snapshots of naked women gazing emptily into the camera, Araki has photographed the extremes of reality and fiction, Eros (life/ sex) and Thanatos (death), capturing the opposing elements of the two. Following the passing of his mother and then his wife, Araki’s practice shifted towards a more explicitly Eros subject matter, capturing fragments of his life exploring the sex clubs of the Shinjuku area nightly between 1983 and 1985. His later work focuses on the Japanese act of kinbaku (the beauty of tight binding). The printed photographs are often painted over with black ink, covering the woman’s exposed genitals as a unique method to navigating Japan’s obscenity laws, which forbade the display of pubic hair in images. His recent Hana Kinbaku photographs from 2008 juxtaposes women tied up with sensual flowers in bloom, drawing the parallel of sex as life and linking to the concept of Thanatos with the element of danger added into the sexual act. Araki questions the veracity of the image by playing with reality, a sexual act that can be seen as performative and the camera as part of the performance.
Only a portion of Araki’s images are sexually explicit. A diarist, the 72-year-old photographer lives through his art, capturing – quickly, messily, honestly – the mundanities of everyday life. He has shot complex cityscapes and high-energy karaoke bars, blooming flowers and colourful children’s toys, normal Japanese folk and international megastars. He documents meals, walks, every sky he wakes up to. When he says “life is itself photography”, you get the impression he really means it.