When PHAIDON called Nobuyoshi Araki “Japan’s greatest and most controversial living photographer,” they weren’t just tossing around a glittering generality. The 73-year-old photographer has produced thousands of photographs and published over 450 photographs books, and his risqué, nearly pornographic photographs—like his 2010 shots of a nude Lady Gaga, tied in “kinbaku” bondage or photographs from his ’92 exhibition in Austria that caused female guards to storm off the premises—have brought on blushing for years. “Art is all about doing what you shouldn’t,” the subversive photographer has famously said, and lived by.
In 1977, Araki unveiled an exhibition of pseudo-documentary photographs at Nikon Salon in Tokyo that followed a woman as she moved from her hometown of Kyushu to the capital city—each vignette intimate and raw, like candid portraits of a lover, in various states of undress. The show was titled “Tokyo Blues,” and this month, in his 21st solo exhibition at Taka Ishii Gallery, Araki revisits 26 vintage prints from the exhibition. Araki, known for his close involvement with his subjects, became fascinated by the stories of women he’d known, finding their stories “blues”-like and suited for retelling in film. “Documentary, photography, and the camera are all about performance,” he said. “Performance is truth and it must be reproduced.”