Why Nobuyoshi Araki’s “Erotos” Photographs Are About More Than Just Sex

Heather Corcoran
Sep 23, 2014 3:42PM

Japanese photographer Nobuyoshi Araki’s seminal series “Erotos” was first published in 1993. Now, 21 years later, Tokyo photo publisher amanasalto revisits the series with the publication of a new edition of the book. Featuring 10 highlights from the series, the publication is a modern take on the Japanese tradition of a pillow book, a type of private diary. 

In the book’s understated black-and-white images, Araki seeks out the form of female genitalia in the natural world: a fig, a woman’s eye turned sideways, a set of lips, a crack in the ground. A curved pipe, meanwhile, suggests the male body. Abstract and muted, these works are erotically evocative, rather than explicit. The artist’s reasoning for their appeal is a little less nuanced, however: “Why do they come across as erotic? Because I shot them. That’s what my photos are.”

Like most of Araki’s oeuvre, there’s more than just sex going on in the images. The artist frequently ties together the themes of love, life, and death. A slice of fruit may conjure desire, but it’s wilted edges also serve as a reminder: everything dies; all beauty fades. 

The charismatic and prolific photographer—beloved by the worlds of both art and fashion, though also a constant source of controversy—has long explored the image of the female sex through his photography. This can be found in such quiet works as the “Erotos”series, as well as in more in-your-face, snapshot-style studies of Japanese bondage, with women naked or in maiko makeup suspended from the ceiling or bound in elaborately tied knots. While those images have shocked, the “Erotos”series has a subtler sensibility, like an artist’s love poem to human sexuality.  

Heather Corcoran