In New Diptychs, Nobuyoshi Araki Finds Beauty in Disease

“For me, photography is (by definition), to reveal oneself,” the famed Japanese photographer Nobuyoshi Araki once told an interviewer, moments before taking his camera from his bag and suggesting that she pose for him in the nude. Such play between the spectator and the subject, the erotic potential inherent to viewership, has been central to the artist’s prolific career.

Truly, Araki puts other artists we might refer to as prolific to shame—he’s published over 400 books of his photography and, according to many, snaps photos everywhere he goes. In the ’80s, Araki would take his camera to clubs in Tokyo and, in the midst of a hedonistic reverie, pass the camera to a friend or a date. Many of his images, including the X-rated sex scenes and nudes done up in Japanese bondage, feature the artist in the shot himself. The latter set of images—some of his best known works—portray women in kinbaku-bi, which translates to “the beauty of tight bonding.” Themes of sex and death have always been at the forefront of Araki’s work; his erotic photography often features lizards, snakes, and blood on the naked female form.

In accordance with his fascination with death and decay—not to mention the rapid-fire, diary-like style in which he shoots—Araki  has also heavily documented his own ailments and those ones of whom he has loved. In 2009, he unflinchingly chronicled the treatment of his prostate cancer, and the radiation therapy he underwent; in addition to photographing his own honeymoon, he produced images of his wife right up to her death in 1990.

It is fitting, then, that Araki’s most recent set of diptychs, “Love on the Left Eye” reflect the decay of the artist’s body as he slides into true old age. An homage, in part, to one of the artist’s favorite photo books—Ed van der Elsken’s Love on the Left Bank (1954)—the large-format series captures, on the left side, a crisp black and white photograph. The right side of the paired images—often dreamy cityscapes—are blurred, a reflection of the fact that a retinal artery obstruction has rendered the artist blind in that eye.

—Molly Osberg

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