Nobuyoshi Araki, 77, is one of Japan’s most famous and controversial photographers. He is known for capturing young women, often nude and tied up in ropes in a reference to the practice of Japanese bondage known as Kinbaku-bi. In February, a retrospective of his work opened at the Museum of Sex in New York. Two months later, one of his former models, who goes by the name Kaori, wrote a blog post asserting Araki mistreated her in various ways and did not respect her as a partner in the creative process. She alleges that the photographer neglected to pay her for some shoots and failed to provide a proper amount of privacy during the nude sessions. She noted that Araki treated her “like an object.”
After writing the post, Kaori gave an extensive interview to the New York Times, describing a series of instances in which Araki bullied her, saying that she felt powerless in the presence of someone who was more influential than her. She stopped working with him in 2016. Though Kaori said she was inspired to speak out by the #MeToo movement, she is not accusing the photographer of sexual assault, and the Times reports that the pair had a consensual sexual relationship while working together.
Maggie Mustard, who co-curated the Museum of Sex show, told the Times that the gallery’s Araki exhibition would incorporate Kaori’s comments into its programming. She added that there needs to be a wider discussion on how male artists treat their female subjects beyond the picture frame. “This gives us the opportunity to talk about what happens to a muse — and I use that word with air quotes — when she doesn’t have a contract or a sense of economic or legal agency about how her image was used,” Mustard said.