Photographs of Women and Flowers
The Japanese photographer Nobuyoshi Araki (b. 1940) has made thousands upon thousands of photographs, chiefly of women and flowers. He photographs these subjects incessantly, like a man possessed. They stand for life, death and sexuality. The sensual and erotic photographs of the women, who are entirely or partially naked and bound, are carefully composed, just as are the photos of the voluptuous and brightly coloured flowers. Araki allows himself to be completely carried away by his own passion and unabashedly appeals to voyeurism and exhibitionism. In over 100 photographs of women and flowers, including some very recent work, the exhibition gave a superb sketch of Araki’s work.
Nobuyoshi Araki studied photography and film from 1959 to1964 in Tokyo, where he was born and still lives and works, and rarely leaves. Until the early 1970s he photographed refrigerators and toasters for a famous Japanese advertising agency; at night he did sex photos of girls in the firm’s studio. In the 1970s and ’80s, until her death in 1990, Yoko, his wife, was his favourite model. In addition he continued to photograph other women, mostly young, sometimes also older, ‘fallen’ women, who he met in the entertainment district of Tokyo, in the bars and brothels. They pose brazenly for the camera.
Araki’s work stands in a long tradition of unabashed erotic depictions, as were found in Japan’s famous 19th century prints. Moreover, it is inextricably tied with the flourishing of Japanese pornography in the 1960s and ’70s. New laws and censorship put an end to this in the mid-1980s.
Araki consciously seeks the taboo and explores the boundaries of the permissible. Sometimes he plays a game with the censor by scratching out the area of the vagina on the negative or painting the region of the pubic hair black, as if these were censored photos. The bondage, the ingenious ways of tying women up, which plays such an important role in Araki’s work, has been a sort of art form in Japan for centuries. The naked bodies of women totally trussed up, hanging in ropes, are the ultimate embodiment of the inferior position of the woman in Japanese society: defenceless, helpless and subservient. Araki’s women in bondage are reminders of that. Yet every photograph expresses his great love for women.
His photographs are to be seen in exhibitions, installations, periodicals and hundreds of books published worldwide. It was only in 1992 that Araki – immensely popular in his own country – had his first exhibition in Europe, in Graz (Akt-Tokyo, 1971-1991), followed by ten other European cities.