Nobuyoshi Araki was raised in Shitamachi, the old traditional quarter of downtown Tokyo, where his father made and sold geta (traditional wooden) clogs. An amateur photographer, Araki senior bought his son a camera when he was at primary school and from that time Araki became an obsessive photographer. In 1959 he enrolled in the department of photography and printing in the engineering faculty at Chiba University, where he watched Japanese and foreign films and produced a 16mm film for his graduation project Children in Apartment Blocks. His concurrent photographic project Satchin earned him the prestigious Taiyo Award in 1964, shortly after he had joined the advertising agency Dentsu, where he worked until 1972. Frustrated by the constraints of conservative advertising photography, in 1970 he produced his first book of pictures Xerox photo Album in an edition of seventy, illicitly using the Dentsu office photocopier and sending copies out to famous people and random individuals selected from a Tokyo telephone directory. At Dentsu he met his wife Yoko, to whom he paid homage in Sentimental Journey, a photographic record of their honeymoon published in 1971. In the preface to the book, Araki claimed that his ‘point of departure as a photographer was love’ and likened his intimate account to an I-novel, a form of Japanese fiction written in the first person. Araki later photographed Yuko’s premature death in 1990, publishing images of her illness together with some of their honeymoon images in Sentimental Journey/Winter Journey 1991.
Eroticism has been a central theme in Araki’s work since the early 1970s; an abiding fascination with female genitalia and women’s bodies as objects combines with repeated images of flowers, food, faces and Tokyo street scenes. Throughout his prolific career as a photographer, Araki has challenged Japanese conventions while expressing his principle interests: sex and death. He himself often appears in his pictures as a comic figure, the clownlike ‘genius Ararchy’ (a term he has invented combining his name with the notion of anarchy) as he titles himself. Araki has played with notions of time and photographic authenticity by showing diaristic pictures dated incorrectly. Photographic series may tell a story or may simply juxtapose images, as in Tokyo Nude 1989 which pairs interior shots of women’s bodies with pictures of empty Tokyo streets.
Schoolgirls, popular figure in traditional Japanese pornography, have featured repeatedly in Araki’s pictures – as innocent figures encountered on the street and as the more stylised erotic fantasy images such as this one. In a 1993 series Untitled (Tokyo Cube) girls wearing traditional Japanese school uniform are captured in a range of innocent but titillating poses, such as eating a banana or drinking from a water fountain. This picture is one of a series showing girls in school uniform bound with rope using traditional Kinbaku techniques. The subject is seated on a concrete surface, her legs folded innocuously on the ground beside to her right. To her left her satchel lies on the ground. A packet of Lucky Strike cigarettes and a couple of sex toys have been placed on the floor in front of the satchel, as though they have fallen out of it. The model’s arms are bound behind her and looks limpidly out of the picture at the viewer.
Araki describes his photographs as ‘a collaboration between the subject and the photographer’ (quoted in Tanaka, p.547) and he has emphasised the importance of his relationship with the model. Since 1979 he has created images of women bound using traditional Kinbaku techniques, developed during the Edo period and featuring in many Ukiyoe woodblock prints. He has photographed bound women in black and white and colour, often wearing traditional kimono, as in Untitled 1995 (Tate L02276), or naked.
The photograph was produced in an unlimited edition.
Nobuyoshi Araki, Diane Arbus, Nan Goldin, exhibition catalogue, Sammlung Goetz, Munich 1997
Akiko Miki, Yuko Tanaka, Tomoko Sato, Nobuyoshi Araki: Self, Life, Death, London 2006
Noboyoshi Araki, Araki by Araki: The Photographer’s Personal Selection 1963-2002, Tokyo 2003