Nobuyoshi Araki | Love-Dream, Love-Nothing

This solo exhibition – his twenty-sixth with Taka Ishii Gallery, though his first at the new Tokyo space in complex665 that opened in October 2016 – presents 98 new works consisting mainly of monochromes captured on 6×7 film.

Since the early 1970s, Araki has committedly photographed extremely personal relationships with his subjects, releasing over the past half-century a prodigious 500-plus publications. He refers to his own photography as Shi-shashin, or the “I-Photograph” – a play on Shi-shosetsu, the “I-novel,” the literary form in which the narrative is related from a subjective first-person perspective – holding that the I-photograph is the truest form of photography. It was in 1971 in the preface to Sentimental Journey, in effect his debut publication, that Araki first made this bold declaration, and this stance has underpinned his work ever since.

After the death of his beloved wife Yoko in 1990, Araki’s work became thickly imprinted with Eros (life/sexual desire) and Thanatos (death), presenting these two poles as an inextricable unity. His recent work has sublimated even the illnesses that have plagued him since the late 2000s and the creeping effects of old age on his mind and body, as the series of solo exhibitions in Japan and abroad in 2017 demonstrated. Last year’s prolific run of 20 exhibitions gives the image of an artist who is staring his own death in the face, and is determined not to waste a moment of the time left to him. Inspirited by his own creations to head away from death and toward life, Araki has kept up his tireless creative activities to this day.

The exhibited works were all captured on medium-format monochrome film. Though monochromes originally symbolized death for Araki, he began last year to see movement in monochrome photography, claiming “You can’t kill it. A photo has to show minute movements to the last.” His basic stance of insisting on using film illustrates his conviction that the love, sympathy and emotion that he values in his photography can only be captured on emulsion-coated film.