Nobuyoshi Araki

Jablonka Galerie

Whether they depict women as fully clothed, showing their breasts, or posing on sofas allowing the viewer to glimpse their vaginas, friends, or adolescent girls with innocent-looking faces, Nobuyoshi Araki’s photographs are sexual. This intense sexuality even characterizes his Tokyo cityscapes, the views of back courtyards, intersections, and landscapes with trees or cloudy skies.

Though years ago Araki wanted to break sexual taboos with his work, he also wanted to provoke a confrontation with the officials charged with protecting public order, which he actually succeeded in doing several times. As a result of all this controversy, he became one of the best-known artists in Japan and his books sell well. Araki’s near-cultish status is due to more than scandal, however. The gaze with which he captures his subjects is the gaze of someone at the very moment of most intense sexual desire—the moment of lusting for complete possession of the desired object.

In interviews, Araki compares the act of photographing something to the sexual act: each time there is the impulse to take out a camera and to direct the lens toward a subject, it is out of desire to possess this subject. By pressing the shutter, you have the sense that you have captured the obscure object of your desire, but in the end you haven’t, so you just keep taking pictures.

Every photographic act is infused not only with sexual desire but also with the desire to stop time and preserve the object: to mimic sexual climax—a moment when time seems suspended. It is actually this permanent feeling of “a little death” that provokes the viewer. The obsession with death not with sexuality is the source of the subversive quality of these pictures. Today only death is a taboo, and Araki who has said that every photograph is a murder, knows this.

Noemi Smolik

Translated from the German by Charles V. Miller.