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According to Araki, photography involves life (eros) and death (tanatos). (âErotosâ is another word coined by Araki. It is a combination of the two words and also the title of his 1993 photobook). Araki stated that bereavement of his loved ones deepened his photography. For Araki, photography is like a swaying boat that comes and goes between this world and the next. Currently, after having been diagnosed with prostate cancer a few years ago and recovering completely from the surgery, his desire to contemplate life and death is sharper than ever.
Everyone who knows Araki is charmed by his honest and warm personality, which brands his words, pregnant with humor, and the volume of his voice on their minds forever. For these reasons, when face to face with Arakiâs view finder, everyone tries to present themselves at full stretch. Not only people, but even cities open themselves up to Araki. When he struts on the street of his magnetic field, Tokyo, he does not overlook a slight sense of incongruity in the landscape or the glimpse of a passer-by, rather he harmonizes them with his shutter in no time. The photographs are filled with allure and desire, and they come like a cavalcade of works, all of which have perfect compositions that do not require any trimming from the contact sheet. Despite these qualities, I wonder why I have a heart wrenching, wistful feeling when I take in his photographs?
Since Yokoâs hospitalization in 1989, Araki started to take many photographs of the sky. In January of the following year, his wife passed away while saying âthank you,â and Araki photographed her dead. Araki stated, âI used to say that I was going to do portraits when I turned fifty 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.â Strangely, the magnolias in Yokoâs hospital room blossomed at her deathbed, and Araki photographed them. Araki said, âAfter my wife had gone, I only took photographs of sky.â He also said, âA prologue probably means an epilogue.â 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 parentsâ house and lived with them as family comforted him; then she came to be a subject to photograph.
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The origin of Arakiâs photography lies, as he openly declares, in Sentimental Journey, which he edited and privately published in a limited edition of one thousand copies. Arakiâs substantial declaration âI-photography (shi-shashin)â originally appeared on the first page of the photobook where Arakiâs hand-written text was transcribed and printed. Sentimental Journey, which created a sensation in the Japanese photography world, is a bold, monochromatic record of honeymooning with his wife Yoko whom he married the same year of the publication. From that time onward, his trajectory as a photographer has been thoroughly supported by his concept of the equivalency between âthe self (I)â and âphotography.â
About two decades after they wed, Yoko passed away due to uterine cancer. Numerous photographs taken throughout their married life discursively document the following: scenes of starting life together in their new home (an apartment in GÅtokuji, Setagaya-ward in Tokyo), a bright smile that reminds us of Araki and Yoko in a state of euphoria, playful moments with their pet cat Chiro, intimate trips taken by just the two of them, and a spacious balcony that was gradually overtaken by a variety of objects used in his photography. Ultimately, this series of photographs was derailed by Yokoâs disease and we see this turn of events in a photograph of her face in her coffin surrounded by a bunch of flowers (as in Winter Journey). Araki also shot a stunning portrait of Yoko that he held at her funeral.
It is an undeniable fact that Yoko was far and away a beautiful woman, and it is also clear that the brightness which radiated from within her was enhanced by the magical chemistry between her and shutter click of Arakiâs tireless shooting. Araki has repeatedly mentioned, âphotography is formulated by the subject and time.â He also states, âI am not shooting the space, but time. I am framing time.â
Araki was born in 1940 in Minowa, TaitÅ-ward in downtown Tokyo. He was the oldest son of father ChÅtarÅ, a maker of traditional Japanese clogs, and mother Kin. During his childhood, the nearby JÅkanji temple was his playground, situated at the foot of Shin-Yoshiwara [red light district] and dating to the Edo period (1603-1868). The temple was the final resting place for many deceased prostitutes without any surviving relatives to pray for their souls. Araki was very influenced by his father, whose hobby was photography. Upon graduating Ueno Municipal High School, Araki went on to take photography courses in the department of engineering at Chiba University. During his university years, he was influenced by Italian Neorealism and made a film Satchin for his graduation project. In 1963, the year he graduated from university, he entered a major advertizing agency Dentsu, Inc. as a photographer. During his years at Dentsu, he won the first annual TaiyÅ (Sun) award for his series of photographs Satchin, in which he photographed children in 1960s downtown Tokyo, filled with the energy of post-war reconstruction.
During this Dentsu years, Araki also demonstrated his aptitude as a commercial photographer. However, he also took advantage of his autonomy and freely made use the agencyâs photo studio, energetically creating his own works, These included photographs of female models such as Aoki Yoko, who worked as a secretary at Dentsu and became his wife in 1971, and a great number of photographs of common people walking in the street, among other works.
Arakiâs mother, by then a widow, passed away in 1974 and Araki served as her chief mourner. Araki said, âI felt that I saw the best version of my motherâs face for the first time. There was an actual thing that went beyond reality. I exactly saw the landscape of death [shi-kei, a word coined by Araki].â
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