The decision to place heavyweight Nobuyoshi Araki alongside eight contemporary Japanese photographers is both illuminating and somewhat confusing. Bookended by an extensive portfolio from NOBUYOSHI ARAKI’s new series, qARADISE, foam’s 40th issue, “After Araki: Heaven & Hell” showcases work by figures whose connection to Araki is clear—like his assistant Nomura Sakiko, or Daifu Motoyuki —and those whose connection is a little tenuous—like Momo Okabe and Lieko Shiga. Yet, Araki’s voice already dominates the discussion surrounding Japanese photography. As editor-in-chief Marloes Krijnen’s comments, “Such a powerful presence that every photographer coming after [him] has had to relate to [him] in some way.”
With an oeuvre that combines iconoclastic bondage images with elements of the banal, Araki is a man who both embodies and disrupts dichotomies. This is the premise for foam’s issue—“life, sex and death and all that falls in between.” And so each of the featured photographers finds his/her place along the spectrum, highlighting a particular Araki-an concern.
In his 1979 essay “My Reality, Or, An Introduction to Landscape Photography”, Araki wrote, “A photographer cannot be inexperienced, or too mature. A photographer ought to be half-ripe.” In the sensitive photography of Hosokura, Sakiko, Okabe, and Anrakuji, we see these immature tendencies. The naked form is on display, yet the explicitly sexual nature of Araki’s photography is displaced with quiet intimacy. All are introspective, and all profile a singular vision of the human condition—temporary, transformative, and fragmented. They recall the personal photography of Araki’s Sentimental Journey triptych, poised between innocence and experience.
Aesthetically speaking, there are clear resemblances between Araki and Daifu Motoyuki and Azuma Makoto respectively. Motoyuki’s Project Family depicts the chaos of life, wherein the camera is an intrusive agent lighting up the scene. The two share a similarly erotic outlook, as Araki claims, “The lens is a penis. Film is a regenerated hymen” so Motoyuki states, “The family is a pubis. That’s why I cover it with a beautiful panty.” Azuma Makoto’s crafted flower constructions evoke Araki’s—images of fertility focused on the raw sexual organ. Again, however, there is a sense of restraint. Just as in Araki’s most salacious photographs, the artist is placed at a distance, so in the Motoyuki’s and Makoto’s work there is an element of voyeurism. This sense of poise extends to the magazine as a whole. foam balances image and text within a reticulate structure so that the reader constantly moves between the fluctuating dichotomies of “life, sex and death.”
Araki condemned the sterility of photographs: “We should not develop the film. The result would be dead scenery. This is what a picture really is: dead scenery.” There is a difference, however, between that which is “lifeless” and that which symbolizes “death.” qARADISE depicts artfully staged flower arrangements, interspersed with paint-inflected broken dolls—quite literally “dead scenery.” Araki’s photography, although matured, remains fertile—it shows, as Japanese photography specialist Mark Feustel writes, “a portrait of the photographer as an old man,” pointing toward images and moments from the past, and looking towards a future of new blossoming talent.
foam, “After Araki: Heaven & Hell,” features photography by Nobuyoshi Araki, Mayumi Hosokura, Nomura Sakiko, Momo Okabe, Azuma Makoto, Hiromix, Emi Anrakuji, Leiko Shiga, and Daifu Motoyuki. Essays by Nobuyoshi Araki, Russet Lederman, Shigeo Goto, Ivan Vartanian, and Mark Feustel.
foam‘s 40th issue, “After Araki: Heaven & Hell,” available at foam.org