Sex, death and toy dinosaurs collide in Nobuyoshi Araki’s latest exhibition
Since the mid-1960s, the Japanese photographer Nobuyoshi Araki has been shooting sex, life, death, kinbaku (a particular form of rope-based bondage) and more recently, plastic dinosaurs, mostly, but not always, in an oddly disengaged black and white. In this time he has shot tens of thousands of images and published more than 450 photobooks. They have made him one of the most admired, influential and controversial artist-photographers of the last half century.
Of course it is the sex - or rather the strangely sexless images of bound and naked young women - that has received the most attention. But a new retrospective at Foam gallery in Amsterdam, ’Ojo Shashu - Photography for the After Life: Alluring Hell’, shows that death stalks Araki just as purposefully - perhaps more so now that the photographer is in his mid 70s.
The exhibition covers Araki’s earliest work and his breakthrough photographs of the early 1970s right up to his most recent works. Among these are the early, erotic black-and-white prints over which he has smeared primary coloured paints and the ’qARADISE’ series - colour shots of flower arrangements, porcelain dolls and plastic dinosaurs like mini, off-kilter Edens.
Araki comes over as much obsessive diarist as he does dirty old man - a part he is happy to play and parody. The show is haunted by the images of his wife Yoko in both life and death (she died in 1990), and Chiro, his beloved cat, who died two decades later, as well as Tokyo street life.
Araki has been so restless and prolific that the show might feel more like the work of five photographers than just one. The fascination is that it is not.