Not on display
This is one of a group of ten black and white photographs by Sakiko Nomura in Tate’s collection (Tate P81193–P81202) that were initially presented as part of her 2008 photobook Kuroyami. This selection of ten images (from over seventy included in the book) was made in discussion with the artist and can be shown together or in smaller groups.
At first glance, the Kuroyami series appears to be primarily focused on the male nude – five of the ten images include nude figures. They pose on bedspreads or silhouetted against the light from bedroom windows. Also in the series, however, are photography featuring a variety of subjects, from portraits to landscapes, streetscapes to private spaces, and with a mixture of the personal and the public. Where there are human figures, these are almost always seen from behind, with details of faces or bodies largely obscured by darkness, distance or orientation away from the camera. Children huddle behind a wall in the street; drinking glasses rest on a table; two far-off figures walk through a ghostly forest; a wave breaks on the shore; and a tiger’s head rears in the night, its glinting eye the only trace of light within the image. The technique of combining different subjects in one series recalls the work of photographer Nobuyoshi Araki (born 1940), for whom Nomura worked as an assistant for more than twenty years, starting in 1990. In photobooks such as Sentimental Journey 1971, and series such as Past Tense c.1970s (Tate T14194), Araki placed images with different themes and locations side by side.
The title Kuroyami, which translates as Black Darkness, reflects the dark, grainy and sometimes blurred appearance of the images. Working in black and white, Nomura achieves these effects by opting to shoot in low light, using indirect light sources to capture subjects that are sometimes barely visible. Often, the photographs are taken during intimate moments (such as Tate P82101), creating a voyeuristic experience for the viewer. By photographing her primarily male subjects in this distinctive style, Nomura’s practice could be seen as a revision of cultural expectations in Japan, reversing the accepted gender roles established by male Japanese photographers – such as Araki – in depicting the female nude.
In Japan Nomura is commonly referred to as ‘Araki’s favourite disciple’ and she herself refers to him as her ‘master’. Although working closely with Araki, Nomura has a distinct pictorial style. Her practice is characterised by her repeated use of the male nude, often presented in a voyeuristic way, and this is certainly evident in the photographs that make up Tate’s selection from Kuroyami. Working in both colour and black and white, Nomura works on conceptual projects that often take place over a long period of time, usually presenting them as photobooks, as is common practice in Japan.
Nomura’s work is significant not only in the context of Japanese photography, but also in relation to the representation of the male nude in a wider art historical context. Discussing her approach to the male nude in 2011, she explained that she is interested in capturing the delicate changes in tension that can take place during a photoshoot: ‘Of course, the texture and the feeling of flesh are important elements for me too. And the appreciation of the model nude, the time while they are taking off and putting on their clothes. I like to capture the slight change in the air. It could be both comfortable and uncomfortable but there is an attraction there.’ (Nomura in Kameoka 2011, accessed 30 August 2012.)
Sakiko Nomura, Kuroyami, Tokyo 2008.
Sakiko Nomura, Night Flight, Tokyo 2008.
Emi Kameoka, ‘In Conversation with Sakiko Nomura and Eiki Mori’, Dazed & Confused, 7 July 2011, http://www.dazeddigital.com/satellitevoices/tokyo/photography/956/in-conversation-with-sakiko-nomura-and-eiki-mori, accessed 30 August 2012.
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