Noboyashi Araki, born in Tokyo, Japan in 1949, has published well over 350 books of his enormous output of photographic images. He seems to thrive on shocking and startling although these say such a career direction is becoming so popular that it barely rouses curiosity. Araki is considered one of the most prolific artists alive or dead in Japan and around the world. Many of his photographs are erotic; some have been called pornographic. He has been commissioned to photograph such celebrities as Björk and Lady Gaga. Moving from the shock value to the museum status Araki's work is now taken seriously and more and more fine books are being published, such as this one, by internationally known publishing houses.
SELF LIFE DEATH is an abridged edition of the book published for the Barbican exhibition of over 4000 photographs. More than any other exhibition in recent memory, 'Araki: Self, Life, Death' came closest to an unmediated glimpse inside the artist's mind. Since his teens, in the 1950s, Araki has never been without a camera; he uses more than 40 rolls of film a day and has recorded everything: from the immense changes in the Tokyo neighborhood where he grew up to the prolonged illness and death of his wife. Like Andy Warhol (another prolific self-promoter) Araki's career started in advertising - at Japan's most influential agency, Dentsu. There, the visual began to obsess him even more than might normally be expected in a society dominated by imagery.
In these pages the viewer sees through Araki's eyes and feels a participant in his compulsion to record everything: snails to flowers, faces to genitals, cats to food. The style also changes from one image to another: composed to spontaneous, black and white to color, serious to playful. The idea of applying color to prints is now an established part of his repertoire. To Araki, a black and white image represents death; it is 'like killing the subject.' He revives the model in his own way, and to his own liking, by adding 'sexual desire and passion' in the form of splashes of color to the photograph. This sense of playfulness in his studio work stands in stark contrast to the stern seriousness of other 'transgressive' photographers such as Robert Mapplethorpe, Cindy Sherman and Nan Goldin, and is one reason why Araki is taken less seriously as an artist.
As an introduction to the rich field of the art of Nobuyoshi Araki this book is probably the best. From the works in this well annotated monograph the reader can easily elect to pursue other books on a particular theme. As critic Rob Johnston has said, `In the case of Araki, quantity is quality. His interests are as comprehensive as life itself - as full of happiness and frivolity as of gloom and despair. This retrospective also confirms just how little we understand about the Japanese sensibility and how little insight we have into the unintended consequences of our own repressed attitudes to sex.' Grady Harp, July 12