Nobuyoshi Araki (b. 1940) is arguably the most widely recognized and controversial Japanese photographer active today. Born in Tokyo, where he continues to live and work, Araki rapidly attained celebrity status through his prolific and provocative output, which includes a diverse offering of photobooks, films, publications and exhibitions. As he embarks upon his eighth decade in 2020, his work continues to intrigue and amuse audiences across the world.
Araki studied photography and film at Chiba University, before embarking on a career as a commercial photographer for the Japanese advertising agency Dentsu. It was during this period that he began to receive attention for his photographs of local children, who lived in a run-down apartment block close to Araki’s home. In 1964, this series, entitled Sachin, was awarded the Taiyo Prize. Increasingly frustrated with the limitations of his corporate job, and piqued by the groundswell of creative activity occurring in reaction to the Provoke photography movement, Araki began to self-publish his first photobooks, which he mailed out to friends, art critics and people selected at random from the public phone book.
Araki developed an autobiographical, confessional mode of photography, which he terms ‘I-Photography’ (shi-shashin), in homage to the ‘I-novel’ (shi-shōsetsu) movement which dominated the Japanese literary landscape during the early 20th century. Chronicling every aspect of his own life, as well as exposing details from those of his friends, Araki’s ever-present camera occupies an ambivalent position, at once relatable and shocking. Documenting his honeymoon alongside dinner menus, his wife’s battles with cancer with the changing seasons of his hometown, Araki’s photography holds nothing sacred but delights in experiencing each facet of his life.
In many of his signature compositions, Araki juxtaposes ikebana flower arrangements and kinbaku bondage performances, appropriating conventions taken from Japan’s aesthetic history to sensationalist effect. Araki’s mastery of dramatic - and specifically erotic - tension creates unique and challenging works of contrast. Amongst the first artists to flaunt Japan’s obscenity prohibitions against showing pubic hair, Araki has refused to give in to public consternation or even interventions staged by the police.
Araki received the annual award of the Photographic Society of Japan in 1990, which was followed by the domestic photography award at the Higashikawa International Photo Festival in 1991, and the Mainichi Art Award in 2012. He has published more than 500 photobooks to date, and his work has been widely exhibited internationally, including major retrospectives at the Museum of Sex, New York, and the Musée Guimet, Paris. His work is included in the permanent collections of international institutions including the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, and Tate Modern, London.