“LIFE, SEX AND DEATH AND ALL THAT FALLS IN BETWEEN”—Feature on foam Magazine’s 40th issue, “After Araki: Heaven & Hell”

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.

Photography by Nobuyoshi Araki, from the series Sentimental Journey/Spring Journey, 2010, courtesy of foam Magazine, 2015

Photography by Nobuyoshi Araki, from the series Sentimental Journey/Spring Journey, 2010, courtesy of foam Magazine, 2015

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 

Deeper

  • Life Exists: Theaster Gates’ Black Image Corporation

    Theaster Gates' “The Black Image Corporation” presents photographs from the holdings of Chicago’s Johnson Publishing Company, a sprawling archive that shaped “the aesthetic and cultural languages of contemporary African American identity.” Gates approached the project as a celebration and activation of the black image in Milan through photographs of women photographed by Moneta Sleet Jr. and Isaac Sutton – of black entrepreneurship and legacy-making. “Life exists” in the Johnson archive, he says, just as it exists and should be honored in other places of black creativity.More
  • FRIDA ESCOBEDO: The Era of the Starchitect is Over

    Rising Mexican architect Frida Escobedo is relentlessly inquisitive, eschewing stylistic constants in favour of an overriding preoccupation with shifting dynamics. Personal curiosity is the driving force behind her practice, which makes he an outlier in a profession dominated by extroverted personalities keen on making bold assertions. "I think it really is a generational shift," Escobedo says. "The idea of the starchitect making grand gestures with huge commissions is over."More
  • “I live a hope despite my knowing better”: James Baldwin in Conversation With Fritz J. Raddatz (1978)

    Born in Berlin in 1931, editor and writer Fritz J. Raddatz relied on food delivered by African American GIs after the death of his parents. To Baldwin he was an “anti-Nazi German who has the scars to prove it.” Debating his return to the USA after 25 years, Baldwin explores the political climate in America at the end of the 1970s in a conversation at home in Saint-Paul-de-Vence.More
  • House as Archive: James Baldwin’s Provençal Home

    For her new book, Magdalena J. Zaborowska visited the house Baldwin occupied from 1971 to 1987 “to expand his biography and explore the politics and poetics of blackness, queerness, and domesticity”. Here, she narrates her early journeys to Baldwin’s home and proposes a salve for its recent loss: a virtual presentation of Baldwin’s home and effects.More
  • Where are the real investments? Theaster Gates on James Baldwin

    The Chicago-based artist talks to Victoria Camblin about materializing the past, the house as museum, and preserving black legacies. Social and artistic engagement, Gates suggests, may allow the contents and spirit of Baldwin’s home, and others like it, to settle in lived experience.More