Nobuyoshi Araki's Erotos oozes sex. Sometimes quite literally. He is a prolific photographer and at times very controversial. I originally became aware of his work after stumbling into a used bookstore near my first train station in Japan. It had the oddest selection, everything imaginable ranging from Japanese idol talent collectables to these fascinating old Kinbaku-bi (緊縛美), bondage tying guides. That one little store, jammed from floor to ceiling with piles of used books, was like a microcosm of contemporary Japanese culture. Art, life, death, sex... ranging from popular media to underground fetishism. It could all be found in the haphazard piles of well thumbed through second hand books. It was here I found the first of Araki's books although I wasn't really aware of him as a photographer until later. I find it intriguing that my experience of that one little store, run by the most unassuming looking grandmother, would be so similar to my views on Araki's practice as a photographer years later.
Araki has published hundreds of books. So what is it about this one that I find so engaging? Erotos is in essence a contemporary pillow book. These tightly framed images vary from the graphically sexual to the allegorical. As simple as they may appear, I always want to go back and look at them again. As Minor White is quoted as saying, "one should not only photograph things for what they are but for what else they are". But, it is not as simple as a crack in the sidewalk that resembles a vagina. Or the inherently sexual pistil and stamens of flowers.
There is an intimacy to them that speaks of the entirely personal. They remind me of all of those little details I loved about the people I have been involved with. The shape of an ear... the hair on the nape of a neck... the indentation of a collar or hip bone... lips swollen from kissing. Beyond the beauty I find in the images as photographic objects, they allow me to see myself in them as well. Well, not myself exactly but my personal experience, my history. This, in my opinion, is the essence of all good erotica. They may be ambiguous but they invite collaboration not distant objectification.
I saw Nobuyoshi Araki walking one day in Ikebukuro. I think I had escaped from work and was wandering taking pictures in the alleys. I will always regret not just walking up and saying hi. He is someone I would very much like to have had a drink with.
Note: With recent allegations from models of bullying and non-consensual use of images I may need to rethink this at some point. They are to me beautiful images and my writing was not meant as a critical look into Araki's production, merely my thoughts. But, since my thoughts were based on the idea of the model and the photographer working together to create the images... Here is a very good translation by Alisa Yamasaki of a blog post by KaoRi that deals with this. 2018.