Araki shot her smiling under a beach umbrella and with their cat, lying in the snow, reclining nude, and eventually in her coffin, after she died of ovarian cancer in 1990. (Yoko left no accounts of their relationship, and scholars are just beginning to examine her role in Araki’s work.)
The city of Tokyo also plays a prominent role in Araki’s practice. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, said Mustard, the city became a “living being” in his work. Araki’s “Tokyo Lucky Hole” (1978–1985) series captured sex clubs, private orgies, and illicit spaces. A black-and-white print from 1985 depicts a nude woman on a circular stage, straddling one man while giving another a blow job before an audience of eager onlookers.
In another picture from the same year, a high-heeled foot steps on a man’s bare torso. Two burning candles between his legs enhance the sense of zany, theatrical danger. After viewing Araki’s staged portraits, these pictures reveal the photographer as a keen observer of a raucous, apparently joyful community—sex becomes integral to the character of the city itself.
In 1992, Austria’s Forum Stadtpark gave Araki his first European exhibition, expanding his influence beyond Japan’s borders. The fashion world, in particular, latched on to Araki’s compositions. According to Mustard, he influenced “this aesthetic of the candid, the hip shot, the emphasis on the explicit.” The photographer himself dismisses any divisions between fine art and commercial work.
In 2009, Araki began a series for which he documented between 500 and 1,000 people in each of Japan’s prefectures. In some ways, he’s come full circle, documenting daily life in Japan nearly 60 years after his first street photographs.