New York

Noritoshi Hirakawa

Deitch Projects

In “The Reason of Life,” one of Noritoshi Hirakawa’s recent photographic series, the camera assumes the role of a Peeping Tom, offering a view of the world underneath a woman’s skirt. Shameless exploitation? Or a playfully subversive gesture? Either way, dismissing these works solely as the product of a lascivious mind would be wrong, for each Cibachrome crotch shot is accompanied by a black-and-white image that reveals that the female subjects may well be Hirakawa’s willing accomplices.

The artist invited women in various cities, from Tokyo to Lisbon, to find a rather populated urban setting and to take an upskirt snapshot. So, for example, Iris, March 14, 1998, 5:40 p.m., Lisbon, 1998, shows a young woman standing over a camera in the middle of a street market. Plunked on the ground between her feet, the apparatus points upward, connected to her hand by a barely discernible cord. A companion image features an under-the-skirt, up-the-legs view, the dramatic angle of the shot adding to the peculiarly monumentalized effect. Amplifying the seemingly casual immediacy of the snapshot aesthetic, Iris is framed here rather beautifully against a partially clouded blue sky, the camera’s extension cord gracefully descending from her hand. The image suggests that it is perhaps Hirakawa’s female subjects who are themselves the true peepers—enthusiastic voyeurs of their own bodies.

In a related series, “Révélation de Printemps” (Revelation of spring), 1998, Hirakawa similarly utilizes the logic of companion images: Each black-and-white photograph presents a naked Japanese woman, gracefully covering her breasts and genitalia, standing amid shrubbery (in what appears to be a Tokyo park) next to her pile of clothes; the accompanying color picture focuses on the pile of clothing. These are contradictory images, at once mildly sinister and peculiarly sweet.

These sexually oriented photos undoubtedly push some buttons. Various questions are raised, such as whether these works might be construed as degrading to women. While this may not be considered “correct” work (whatever “correct” actually means today) and although provocation is no doubt one of this artist’s aims, Hirakawa is always careful to implicate himself as the author/perpetrator who has staged these (and other) public encounters as a form of artifice. Unlike Japan’s elder statesman of eroticized photography, Nobuyoshi Araki, Hirakawa is not displaying allegorical narratives about his own sexual adventures and tastes but is, rather, submitting what motivates such an approach to a playful kind of reflexive criticism.

Finally, in the somber but gorgeous black-and-white pictures of the 1997 “S” series—referred to by the artist as a “vicarious experience of death”—Hirakawa visited ten well-known suicide locations in Switzerland. Aiming the camera downward from various bridges, he may have sought to invoke a symbolic communion with the victim’s final moment of apprehending life before self-annihilation. Pont Butin, Genève, 1997, for example, offers a subtly abstract, textured surface of a calm body of water. Enchanted with the play of the literal and the unmentionable in all his works, perhaps Hirakawa would like us to recognize our own vicarious—or topographic—relationship to both sex (“the reason of life”) and death.

Joshua Decter