The Paradox of Reality
The Incomplete Araki: Sex, Life, and Death in the
Works of Nobuyoshi Araki
Museum of Sex, New York
08.02.18 – 03.09.18
Translated by Richard Dobson
Nobuyoshi Araki hopes to reach reality through photography and take part in life. In other words, if he were to have put down the camera, maybe he would have never really lived.
In 2018, Nobuyoshi Araki held a large retrospective exhibition called The Incomplete Araki: Sex, Life, and Death in the Works of Nobuyoshi Araki at the Museum of Sex in New York. The exhibition was extremely bold, and explored the themes of ‘male chauvinism, ritualism, obsession, exhibitionism, pornography, and infatuation of art with East Asian women’. This exhibition is a virtual summary of the life of Araki, especially considering that he has suffered from cancer in recent years, and has published several ‘final testaments’, only to return virtually from the edge of death.
I believe assessments of Araki have always been very wide of the mark. And while there have been many, most of these regard him as a famous artist, not as a person who happens to be an artist. These evaluations attach too many labels or are excessively theoretical, or too adoring, or too critical. They either go to one extreme or the other, tearing apart a legend or a fiend, without taking into consideration either the complexity of a person or the fact that an artist is rooted in human nature and that their humanity is expressed in the complexity of the artistic process.
Making ‘Intimate Photos’ Public?
Araki works very hard. He is taking photos all the time and at every moment. His wife, Yoko, recalled that many of the intimate moments they shared when they lived together were documented in photos. This is difficult for most photographers to do, and this is what Araki’s ‘intimate photos’ captured on a daily basis.
However, intimate photography is full of innate contradictions: intimate photography; taking intimate pictures of people and their private lives. But it is also necessary to show the images to a public. The photographer needs to be both intimate with the subject, yet also maintain the viewpoint and attitude of a spectator; for the subject, the photographer is both a close and trustworthy person, and yet also a stranger who intrudes into their private life on behalf of the public.
As a photographer who engages in this kind of intimate photography, Araki seems a bit strange and his subjects are tortured. Both Kiko Mizuhara and KaoRi, both of whom had previously been photographed by Araki, complained. When Mizuhara was having her naked upper torso photographed, more than twenty strange men barged into the studio, and when she protested, Araki turned a deaf ear; and KaoRi has said that although she was referred to by the media as Araki’s muse and girlfriend, in fact she was paid very little or even nothing to model for him, while never receiving the respect and emotional support that her work deserved. Even Araki’s wife felt that he was impossible to understand. In a moment of tenderness, he won’t forget to pick up his camera. Yoko had said: ‘I have lived with him for more than ten years and often I think he lives a terrible existence.’1
In order to carry out this kind of photography, Araki needs to do a few things. Firstly, the camera is used to isolate him from his subject, and therefore what he does is not considered pornographic voyeurism and instead is regarded as the creative work of an artist. Secondly, he ‘objectifies’ his subjects. Like lumberjacks seeing forests simply as wood or recruiters viewing people as human resources. He refuses to inject emotion into these objects, and before his camera lens they are seen as a constituent element of a good piece of work.
However, this brings rise to a new contradiction. He can’t let the subject become aware of this. Or at least before he presses the shutter, he must allow them to reveal the real expressions and physical movements that would only be done in front of people with whom they are intimate, and in whom they have a high degree of trust. This is very difficult and Araki has revealed his experiences to reporters. To do this, he must ‘touch’ the woman who is modelling for him.2
So how can a subject suffering such severe mental discomfort put up with the torture that is required of Araki’s long photo shoots? Based on what Yoko and KaoRi said, we could surmise that they may spontaneously or due to indoctrination be susceptible to these psychological cues: being photographed is actually a sublime sacrifice and undertaking for art’s sake; it is a magnificent endeavour that will enter the annals of art history and by doing so they might become someone of great significance and find a meaning for their existence.
Not So Unavailable?
When he was young, Araki lived in an old red-light district in Japan. There were rooms where prostitutes would provide their services and special cemeteries reserved for prostitutes. Araki said: ‘Everything is determined by where you grew up and this is how I learned that desire, life and death are all linked together. This concept left a lasting impression on my heart.’ The impression of death he received in childhood may have made Araki think that life is fleeting, dreamlike, and only photography can record living, and make these moments last longer. So, in fact the real value lies in taking photos, not living. The impressions he had of prostitutes in his childhood may have prematurely stimulated his sexual desire. On the one hand, he felt that a woman’s body could be displayed and used publicly, that it was as an object. In this respect, he may not have the psychological inhibitions of the average person.
Thus, Araki may be able to engage in intimate photography for three reasons: either he is afraid to slip into real life, or he ‘professionalises’ his life due to his utilitarianism, or he gives his life ‘meaning’ that stems from his contemplation of values.
As Araki has said, if he didn’t take photos, he would not be alive. The camera has been internalised as the only sensory organ of his body, the proof of his existence and gives meaning for him to go on living. He once told reporters: ‘Photography is a perfect fit with my mental state, so that’s why I can say I am a photographic genius. Because photography is me. Photography is my memory. I’ve never focused on the trends in society and of the times. Photography is my journal – that is, taking pictures of this thing that is my life.’
This leads to danger. First of all, Araki may lose his own private life; in addition, he can’t participate in life when he puts down the camera. As long as Araki is still doing intimate photography, he is not so unavailable.
The Paradox of Reality
In the West, in 1986, the female photographer Nan Goldin published The Ballad of Sexual Dependency in which the term ‘intimate photography’ first officially appeared. In her works, she presents the living conditions of American youth on the edge of mainstream society. She even recorded her own bruised and swollen face after being beaten up by her boyfriend. In the East, in 1971, Araki published a collection of photos titled Sentimental Journey, which included the naked female body and women that have been tied up, and this continues to attract attention and spur discussion.
In Hong Lei’s column Cai Sang Bi Tan, he opposed photographic works as using ‘excessive force’, and was in favour of the ‘useless’ photo – it restores only the moment ‘that was there’, and does not interfere with the possibility of capturing the details of an image, while viewing it. To put it another way, don’t use the subjective influence of the photographer to capture objective reality! So, what should we think about intimate photography? Should the subjectivity of the photographer be injected into intimate photography? Or should it strive to present objective reality?
On the one hand, since intimate photography conveys the photographer’s personal emotions and ideas, it is impossible not to be subjective. On the other hand, the purpose of intimate photography is still to present ‘reality’, precisely because it is an intimate situation, so the subject, the photo shoot and scene are more likely to be real.
Photographers record objective reality from a subjective perspective. They do not modify or shy away in order to approach the limitlessness of reality. They do not hesitate to make public people’s private lives, and they even regard private life as a true example of human life. This may be where the value of intimate photography lies. Goldin’s view of photography confirms this: ‘I only shoot people I am very familiar with… I am not looking for beautiful things through photography, just to shoot the person I see. Although some people say that photography is an aggressive behaviour, for me, taking photos is a way of touching and caressing the person in front of me. It is a way of expressing my own respect. The camera is my eyes and hands at that moment.’
Nowadays, with the popularity of taking photos with mobile phones, records of private lives can be seen everywhere in the WeChat community. However, there are probably not many people who are like Araki and recklessly enter the intimate realm of naked expression and pay the price. Maybe this is the ‘ultimate price’ an artist has to pay for what they see as their just cause!
1. See Nobuyoshi Araki, Yoko My Love, afterword by Akira Hasegawa, Asahi Sonorama, Tokyo, 1978.
2. See Nobuyoshi Araki, interviewed by Tomo Kosuga, VICE Magazine, 2 July 2008 ( The Photo Issue 2008 ) <https: //www.vice.com/en_us/article/yvngdx /nobuyoshi-araki-118-v15n7>.
2018 年2 月8 日—2018 年9 月3 日
2018 年荒木经惟在纽约性博物馆举办了名为 “未完成的荒木：荒木经惟作品中的性爱与生死”的大型回顾展，展览极其大胆，贯穿的几个主题分别为“大男子主义、仪式、痴迷、自我展示、色情影片、艺术对东亚女性的迷恋”，这次展览近乎是荒木经惟的人生总结，特别是考虑到他近年经历了癌症，出了好几本《遗言》，几乎从死亡边缘重新返场的经历。
进行这种私摄影的摄影师荒木看起来有些奇怪，而被拍摄对象则备受折磨。曾被荒木拍摄过的水原希子和 KaoRi 抱怨过。在拍摄水原希子上半身裸照时，二十多位陌生男性闯入摄影棚，水原希子对此抗议，荒木却置若罔闻;KaoRi 谈到，她虽被媒体称为荒木的缪斯和女友，但事实上却是廉价甚至免费的拍摄模特， 从未得到应有的尊重和情感上的抚慰。甚至被荒木作为爱妻的阳子也觉得荒木是个无法理解的人，在温存的时刻，他居然不会忘记拿起相机，阳子说:“我和他生活了十几年，常常会觉得他是个非常可怕的存在。”1
荒木要完成这种拍摄，他需要做到几点。第一，用相机把他 和他的拍摄对象隔离，不被视为色情狂的侵犯而被视为艺术家的创作。第二，把他的拍摄对象“客体化”。像伐木工人把森林看做木材，招聘者把人看做人力资源。他拒绝向这些对象注入情感， 在他镜头前的她们被视为一个好的作品的构成元素。
而心理严重不适的拍摄对象，如何能忍受荒木长期拍摄的折磨? 据阳子和 KaoRi 的陈述推测，她们可能自发或者被灌输这样的心理暗示: 被拍摄其实是为艺术而做的崇高牺牲和付出，是可以进入艺术史的伟大之举，你可能因此而变得重要，有了存在的意义。
所以荒木可能基于三种原因从而能够从事私摄影: 或者他害怕坠入真正的生活，或者他出于功利把自己的人生“职业化”了， 或者他出于价值的考虑把自己的生活“意义化”了。
在西方，1986 年，女摄影家南·戈尔丁的《性依赖的叙事曲》出版，“私摄影”一词正式登场。她在作品中呈现了社会主流边缘的美国青年的生活状态，甚至录入了自己被男友打得鼻青脸肿的样子; 在东方，1971 年，荒木经惟出版摄影作品集《感伤的旅程》，以裸露的女性身体和捆绑系列等，不断引起关注和讨论。