Cultre Power
artist Araki Nobuyoshi/荒木経惟

Copyright © Aomi Okabe and all the Participants
© Musashino Art University, Department of Arts Policy and Management
©岡部あおみ & インタヴュー参加者

Nobuyoshi Araki (photographer and a contemporary artist, born 1940 in Tokyo)

Aomi Okabe: Around what time do you take photographs for Hitozuma Eros (Eros of Married Women) series? Do you give instructions to what the models wear and how they apply their makeup?

Nobuyoshi Araki: It takes about three hours, starting from 14:00 to 17:00. During this time the effect of strong lighting creates an extraordinary experience. The best environment is to let models do whatever they want with both makeup and clothes. I don't try to take good photographs, but simply take shots continuously when models are standing right there. I may casually take photos of three models in a day by with color film, while with a monochrome film I take nude shots without capturing their faces, praising their ugly bodies. So I am betraying them. And that made the photo book of Uragiri (Betrayal), the selection of one hundred nude shots of married women.

Okabe: There must be quite a few professional models you work with by now.

Nobuyoshi Araki photo:okabe aomi

Araki: There are no professional models. A model must be a person who has a life of his or her own. Students are the worst, they aren't interesting at all. On the other hand, ‘married women’are professionals, right? Women who work in sex industry are also professionals too.  It must be people who do these kinds of things to live, as a career.

Okabe: Your photo books always have good titles and catch-phrases, it's may be because you have an intelligent mind. What sort of management are you and your two staffs like Mr.Tamiya involved in at your office, AaT ROOM?

Araki: Well it’s not a case of brains. There used to be a workshop school for photography and those guys were my students, they were also the first graduates of the school. They're about fifty years old now and even though they themselves take photographs, they say they would rather follow me to the grave. When a photographer takes photos for a magazine, it's for money. What is more important is the time when we give money away. Everything should be a matter of personal concern, a love.

Okabe & students: Everything is a matter of love!? You've mentioned your best selling photo books are Sentimental na Tabi - Fuyu no Tabi (Sentimental Journey - Winter Journey), and Itoshi no Chiro (Chiro My Love). How many subscribers do those books have?

Nobuyoshi Araki"Sentimental na Tabi" Shinchosha, 1991
© Nobuyoshi Araki

Araki: Satchin is my bestseller. My photo books used to sell about ten thousand copies, you know. Nowadays, we can only publish two thousands in each edition, due to the economic recession. But Satchin has guts, it has been reprinted up to 12 editions. There are photo books like Satchin which have a legacy. On the other hand, there are books that capture the women of that time, which only last a short while. That's the difficult part.

Nobuyoshi Araki "Satchin" Shinchosha, 1994
© Nobuyoshi Araki

Okabe: Do erotic series from your photo collections sell well?

Araki: Yes, but not forever. They won't last long; you can't get books like Erotos now, even if you want to.

Okabe: Your style of photography is particular, for example to bind a woman with ropes on top of her heavy kimono. It seems very hard to prepare such an environment with all the makeup, kimonos, tools and equipment.  Meanwhile, natural nude shots without any makeup or embellishment seem to be popular among people these days.

Araki: A photographer like Kishin Shinoyama deliberately uses a digital camera for its effect, calling his series “bright nude”. Since a digital camera cannot capture darkness, it changes it to lightness. He uses this mechanism to say "people of our times are as such", so on and so forth. He isn't attempting to bring out eroticism or anything, but questions what is our current era like? But you shouldn't change yourself just because the times have changed. Despite of this “bright time”, we have to express the wetting.

Okabe: You mentioned that Japanese men don't buy photographs with bondage ropes, but they sell very well in foreign countries, right?

Araki: Oh yes, the difference is terrific. Photographs of men and women abroad are like sports photographs, sports photos don’t sell, meanwhile bondage pictures don't have a market in Japan. People in Japan won’t buy photos for two or three hundred thousand yen anyway. But recently there are weird young people buying such expensive prints.

Okabe: I assume the market cannot be that big in USA, Canada, and Australia for instance. 

Araki: No. It's because USA has all the world’s county bumpkins. Even if I manage to show my photographs there, their choices of exhibitions are different. They choose photos that capture a plain theme like the sky, which is boring. You should show everything, both pureness and dirtiness.

Okabe: In Hara Museum of Contemporary Art and Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo, you exhibited polaroids, including some erotic photographs.

Araki: The trouble comes after I exhibited them. Curators were being called by the police. Curators are laying their lives on the line.

Okabe: From an early stage I saw your large scale eccentric erotic photographs which were exhibited abroad. I remember the exhibition in Museum of Modern Art, Frankfurt was quite awesome. There were photographs exhibited on the wall of central stairway, and a boy was asking his father what the pictures were about. The father was explaining it very calmly to his boy.

Araki: Yes, such scenes are so normal abroad. When I had an exhibition in Secession at Vienna, there were students visiting as an after-school program. They showed photographs of bondage ropes and penises to elementary kids without hesitation. They have a place for art in education. We can’t imagine this in Japan.
Student: I was shocked when first I saw Shikijoka (Lust Flowers). I even cried. Those colors have startled me.

Araki: I painted the flowers in Shikijoka. Lust Flowers in the Sky over the Balcony was a view of the sky from my house, but it turned to be "death sky" since Yoko's death weighed heavily on my mind. It was almost like dedicating flowers to her. There are always life and death, truth and false, and they need to be mixed up. This mixture also represents myself. Someone who does something important, no matter if he is a photographer or not, ought to have both sadistic and masochistic sides. He has to be androgyne, a person with both characteristics of man and woman.

Nobuyoshi Araki "Shikijoka" , 2003
© Nobuyoshi Araki

Okabe: You have been collaborating with intelligent woman like Taeko Tomioka.

Araki: Intelligent women are the only kind of women I want. Communications and relationships are never interesting if she has no intelligence. There's no point in studying though, because it is a natural talent. Women have to be smart. There's a touch between intellectual matters, a sex of intelligence. Hm, it's getting complicated.

Okabe: Since you are a judge in Canon's "New Cosmos of Photography", don't you think there are more women getting awards lately?

Araki: Yes. It's not that girls are more suitable for photography, but photographs are physiological materials from the beginning. It's different from the time when war was going on when reporting was for men, considering the need of physical strength. Now, videos are better medium for reporting. Photography is enough for little things, it is very unique. I always say "Women make good photographers, and men should carry the tripod". After I got to sixty I began taking the series of Nihonjin-no-kao (the face of Japanese people). But only a person who is able to see things beyond someone's face can do such work. An uninteresting picture tells the same about the photographer. Photographs are very honest, they are about exposing oneself in the end.

Okabe: I agree. Photographs clearly represent one's intuition and insight.

Araki: Plus how the photographer feels toward the object. A photographer needs to change his camera depending on what sort of picture he wants to take. I'm thinking to use a Leica from next year to take something large, not necessary a human's face. If you want to take pictures of life, Leica is it.

Okabe: You are a prolific photographer but you seem quite conscious of Hokusai.

Araki: I'm not being consciousness about him, but I just feel "This is Hokusai" or "This is Shiko Munakata" time to time. The exhibition of Munakata, at The Bunkamura Museum of Art, was interesting. The circle of Munakata amazed me. I take photos of pregnant women because the most beautiful curve of a woman is the "circle"; the vein protruding pregnant belly.

(At Shinjuku, December 12th, 2003, translated by Moeko Ogawa, revised by Emma Ota)


荒木経惟 アーティスト

岡部:荒木さんの写真集はタイトルやコピーがいつも上手ですが、ブレーンがいいのかな。Aat Roomという荒木さんの事務所には、田宮さんなどスタッフが2人いて、どんなマネージメントしているのですか。