Nobuyoshi Araki's Sentimental Journey & Decadence in Paradise

30 June - 31 August 2012

Organizer: Three Shadows Photography Art Centre 

Co-organizer: Gucang Contemporary Image Centre, Lanzhou

Project direcotrs: RongRong&inri

Special guest curator: Motoo Hisako

Curators: Mao Weidong (Three Shadows Photography Art Centre)

Wang Lian (Gucang Contemporary Image Centre)

Project Assistant: Yuko Fujii


Participants: RongRong, Jerome Sans, Hisako Motoo

Date: June 30, 2012, 15:00



The world-renowned photographer Nobuyoshi Araki is a rare talent of the Japanese photography world; from start to finish the way in which he captures subjects and emotion is quite controversial. Yet behind the gorgeous colors of passion and glamor lies an endless sadness stored within the artist.


In 1971, Araki took his wife Yoko Araki on their honeymoon, during which he created the series of photographs Sentimental Journey, a personal portrait that firmly established his individual vision as a photographer. 'Sentimental Journey is my love, and also an act of determination on my part as a photographer. I photographed my honeymoon trip, so these are realist photographs.' One could say that with this sentiment, Araki stepped onto the path of art. In the subsequent series Spring Journey, and Winter Journey he photographed the passing of his wife Yoko and the death of his beloved cat Chiro with grief and mourning. His flat visual angle and technique clearly describe another side of Araki.


Since Yoko's hospitalization in 1989, Araki started to take many photographs of the sky. In January of the following year, his wife passed away while saying "thank you", and Araki photographed her dead. Araki stated, "I used to say that I was going to do portraits when I turnedfifty years old, but Yoko taught me how to take a portrait and let me take it. Until her very last moment, she let me take photographs". Strangely, the magnolias in Yoko's hospital room blossomed at her deathbed, and Araki photographed them. Araki said, "After my wife had gone, I only took photographs of sky". He also said, "A prologue probably means an epilogue". In winter of the same year, when Araki was struck by the sense of loss, it snowed heavily in Tokyo. On his balcony covered with white snow, Chiro jumped up and down.The gestures of this female cat that Yoko brought from her parents' house and lived with them as family comforted him; then she came to be a subject to photograph.


The balcony is a photo studio for Araki. Robert Frank and others visited there, and this was the place where big parties had been thrown for Araki's birthday every year. Araki has continued to take photographs of the sky in the mornings and evenings from this balcony. This year, it was the decision to demolish this decrepit apartment building in Setagaya which finally forced Araki to move out. At the same time, unprecedented natural disaster, earthquake and tsunami, struck the Tohoku region of Japan. On this balcony of memories, Araki juxtaposed antique dolls, monster puppets, and flowers, trying to duplicate a garden of paradise in homage to the loss of two things. Araki stated, "but it could not turn out to be a garden of paradise. It had fallen into the world of darkness. Thus, I call it Decadence in Paradise”.


Up until the beginning of the 1990s, even in Japan only his bondage photographs and radical nudity gained prominent attention, and Araki was haunted by a lingering reputation as an obscene photographer of women. The situation changed with the incredibly positive reception of the "AKT Tokyo" exhibition which traveled around Europe in 1995 and was eventually re-imported to Japan.The "I-photography" approach advocated by Araki was incorporated into the world of fine art as an expression representative of Japanese culture. Many young people followed in his footstep and the "Araki children" were born. Under the moniker "Araki the Genius", he has published many books (450 titles to date), and even the top officials of Japanese police force, which once vigilantly attempted to send Araki to prison as a scapegoat, are now Araki fans. In 2008, Araki received the highest Order of Culture from the Australian government.



Araki said, "Photography is a life. If one's life is not interesting, his/her photography is not going to be interesting either". Within Araki's photographs, in which he reveals himself completely without the slightest bit of hesitation, exists everything that photography tells and plays. Araki said, "I need to take photographs 24/7. It is something like the pulse. It is the way of confirming I am still alive. My photography ends when I die”.