Mind the Gap: An interview with Joshua Lutz

Disclaimer: A publicist working with Schilt Publishing got in touch looking for a review of Mind the Gap. I don’t tend to review books, particularly if approached, but having really enjoyed Hesitating Beauty I thought this could be a great opportunity to see if Joshua was interested in a frank conversation about photobook publishing. Luckily, Joshua has given the questions posed a good deal of thought and has been refreshingly open about the publishing process. I hope this is of interest to readers here and truly I do recommend  seeking out the book if you can…

Joshua, seeing as we are talking mostly about Mind the Gap it seems that the best way to start might be in asking you why this work, and the publication, matters to you?

I wouldn’t say Mind the Gap matters so much, It’s the conversation that the work is about which feels really important. The publication functions simply as a way to have a dialog of sorts with these issues. I don’t really know how to play a productive part of that exchange in any other way besides things like teaching and making work that creates the conditions to talk about it.

And the book is a key part of this? With Meadowlands and Hesitating Beauty, it seems as though the book as a medium really offers you something as an artist — what is this?

They were all really very different processes. Meadowlands didn’t start as a book it started as just pictures I was making. This was way before book making became so ubiquitous. A book or even a show really wasn’t even on my radar. In a way Hesitating Beauty didn’t start as a book either but it quickly lent itself to the medium once I started making some small prints. I like making books because I can work small. With a book I can see this thing from beginning to end. I feel that it can say the thing that I want to. If it falls apart ultimately it is on me. With a show, I tend to work backwards where the space dictates what is included and at what size. The parameters for what I am going to say is very different. In a way I don’t hold myself to the same standard. I am ok with shows falling apart a little bit or not saying all the things I want them to.

Image from production process. Joshua Lutz

My favorite components of the book as a medium is how one reads it in such a way that confirms something that they may believe to be true and how a belief system is reinforced by something in the book itself. Basically, If you have a small hint of something that you think is true and apply it to the book that very thing becomes the glasses for which you read the entire book. A younger version of myself fought this as much as I could to make sure people where seeing exactly what I was. Letting go of this is a little scary but ultimately has ended up being really quite spacious.

Is this connected to the books permanence? Its longevity? It seems especially in a predominantly digital medium this is important to makers and readers alike?

I am not thinking consciously about permanence with the work. If anything, impermanence is the thing that drives my work. I do one day want to explore the digital realm of showing my work. Right now, the digital format for me really functions as a document for the actual print or the book not the piece itself. For now, I think it’s more connected to control. Feeling a bit unresolved about the work online I ultimately can’t control what happens to it. For example, there is an artist taking my photographs and turning them into design posters and fabrics. At first, I wanted to reach out and ask them to stop but then I was flattered that they would spend any real time with the work to consider using it in their own practice.

Joshua Lutz

This is your second time working with Schilt, something that would certainly suggest a symbiotic relationship. Can you explain a little about what the two parties put in to the production of the book and why it is that you have chosen to work with Schilt again?

We worked together again because I was extremely pleased with Hesitating Beauty. The book was produced almost exactly how I wanted it. There was very little push to change anything that was not in the original design. Although he didn’t do Hesitating Beauty I know one of the designers (Henk VanAssen) that Schilt works with very well and I wanted to work with him. Henk was great to collaborate with. These things are really so difficult. Photographers spend years looking at a project only to have them hacked away by over- design. Henk was very conscious of the work that I had done, willing to push ideas while honoring the intent of the book. In the end we didn’t land far from where we started which for this book was ultimately the right move.

Is this important to you that your intent remains mostly unchanged — not that it isn’t challenged or supported but do you see the resulting book with you as author or a co-authored project?

Perhaps this sounds smug but I do not see the designers that I work with as co-authors at all. Co-designers but not co-authors. I would argue that with all my books I came to the design process with 99% of the layout done and 95% of the design done. My designs however are never in the right format and far from print ready. I use photoshop instead of InDesign to hack my way through the process. The designer then takes my pages and translates them into a format that can be used by the printer.

Joshua Lutz

Where does price fit into the process of bookmaking? At $50 it is not a cheap publication and I wonder whether the price (or range) is set at the start or whether it is the product of all the other decisions that go into the production of the publication?

That is something that is set by the publisher. I have really no say in that stuff. I think Schilt Publishing weighs the cost of the book against the Amazon reduction. $50 becomes $35 but really not sure how any of that happens.

It is pretty hard to see the ‘work’ that is Mind the Gap without buying the publication, or seeing the ClampArt show at the moment — is this a conscious decision to hold back and keep something limited or perhaps you are keen to really curate or control the experience of those coming to the work?

I wish it was that thought through. Honesty, it is really just about not updating my website. Most the images are either on the galleries website or other publications that have interviewed or reviewed the work.

Do you have a strategy for getting the book into specific archives, libraries, schools and so on? Does this factor into your bigger plans for the book?

No, I don’t really have plans for the book in that sense. I do very little outreach to institutions to get the book placed. As a teaching artist with kids my time is so limited. If I am not teaching or with my kids I try and devote all my studio time to making work. Perhaps in another life I would have a gaggle of assistants that could help with these things, but I don’t see that happening anytime soon.

Who is it then that you want to see, or buy the book? Are you aiming for the book itself to primarily be read by photobook enthusiasts or are there other groups of people you are looking to reach?

That is a really important question. Often when a book comes out people ask you to come to different places to show the work and talk about it. I did a bunch of that before realizing that almost everyone coming to see these events were people that want to be doing it themselves. We end up talking to ourselves over and over again. Rarely, for many of us in the photography art world are we able to really reach outside of our own little echo chamber. That said it does become really beautiful when the work is able to transcend beyond our circles. With my first book Meadowlands that happened a little bit with people interested in the environment but more often with enthusiasts of New Jersey. Hesitating Beauty was a bit more successful in this realm and seemed to touch a note with caregivers, specifically those caring for parents or those suffering from mental illness. I am really not sure who the audience will be for Mind The Gap. It does seem to be hitting some strange notes that are trickling into all sorts of unintended interactions. The range has been somewhat disparate; from the Bernie Sanders Campaign wanting to collaborate to a warden of a Texas Prison connecting about a public works project. At this point, I am not sure where any of it is going just feeling grateful for the ability to be a part of the conversation.

What is a successful reading of Mind the Gap for you? What do you want (or do you even think about this?) people to hear when they look at the work?

I don’t really think there is a successful read as much as there is an unsuccessful read. For example, the book has about 20+ short stories in it. Some readings have taken the stance that based on my previous work certain stories must be grounded in truth while others must embrace fiction. It is not that I am bothered by the picking and choosing of real vs fiction it’s just a bit more effective if people embraced not knowing. In a way that is essentially what the work is about; our collective need to come to conclusions about things. It is about the state of being lost in confusion 99% of the time with only tiny glimpses of clarity. I like the Sanskrit word samsara and refer to it in the drawings of the wheel of samsara used in the end pages. I suppose this becomes a legend or a map for the book for anyone really wanting to dig in. Samsara translates to wandering and these drawings depict ancient and modern-day states that from a buddhist perspective prevent us from finding clarity. My favorite thing about them is that these obstacles have been updated but they haven’t changed we only think they have.

Joshua Lutz

What role does the accompanying spiel/blurb/precis that accompanies the work do for this communication between you and the reader?

That’s a publisher thing and that has to do with marketing. If I had it my way there wouldn’t be anything, but I do understand the need.

Do you think consciously of the ways in which the book (this or previous) impacts you from a financial perspective or in terms of your career —

To the first part of your question photo-books at the scale that I am making them do not contribute to any real income. My finances are not directly tied to book sales at all. My income is generally balanced through the ebb and flow of teaching, art sales, grants and the occasional editorial job. As far as career, I think they are all intertwined and support each other.

Is it important today for photographers to be making books?

No not at all. Don’t hate me for this but I think there are way too many photo-books being made. I can’t tell you how many people tell me about a book they want to make. They see the book before they see the work. What is important for photographers to be making are long term realized projects that may or may not one day find themselves in the book format. The work has to come first. A photo-book should be the end result of every possible iteration. It’s a massive undertaking that should really not be seen as the goal but if anything the outcome.

Ben Krewinkel and a bootlegged ‘Midwest Dirt’

While this chat I recently had with Ben Krewinkel mostly focused on methodology and importance of conversation in the image making process, it still may be of interest for some who have seen ‘A Possible Life; Conversations with Gaulbert‘…

A conversation about conversation with Ben Krewinkel from CU Photography on Vimeo.

Matt Johnston talks to Ben Krewinkel about the project ‘A Possible Life; Conversations with Gaulbert’ in which Krewinkel co-authored a documentary about identity, memory and documentation of an undocumented person. ‘Gaulbert’, an illegal immigrant who resided in Amsterdam was both subject and collaborator leading to a wonderfully rich, sometimes tense and consistently powerful body of work.

For any interested, this is a small part of an open class I am teaching at the moment which lives online at www.picbod.org – take part if you like!

In other news, Nathan Pearce has successfully bootlegged ‘Midwest Dirt’ which is available in all its rough and ready glory here. ($9)

Aaron Guy: Working with the Archive

This post will be featured in the open undergraduate photography class ‘#phonar‘ shortly but I thought it would also be of interest to readers here, especially when we consider the increasing interest in archive material within photographic publishing in all it’s guises.

Aaron Guy works at the North of England Institute of Mining where he has the daunting task of digitizing much of the institutes artefacts as well as transforming, categorizing and publishing them in new forms. Here Aaron takes us on a brief tour of the Institute and answers questions on the transformation of this great archive.

Below the photofilm/tour/interview you can see the stunning ‘Working, Void’, a piece produced by Aaron in response to much of the material he has been working with at the institute…

Dr Strangepub: Andreas Schmidt

When I introduced the ‘Dr Strangepub’ project a few weeks back which features a series of conversations about the future of photographic publishing, I mentioned I would highlight those conversations over the coming weeks. This time it is the turn of Andreas Schmidt, who has been described as someone who ‘takes the concept of the book and shakes it like a rag doll…until its head comes off.’

Here, Schmidt talks about the rise of print on demand technology and what it has enabled a generation of artists to do as well as the role of the performance in photobook publishing.

Find out more about the ABC Andreas speaks of here.
See the rest of the Dr Strangepub conversations here

 

Dr Strangepub: The Possibilities of 21st Century Photographic Publishing

Dr Strangepub or:
How I learned to stop worrying and love the possibilities of 21st century publishing

Recently I sat down to chat with 4 individuals, all with their own different take on 21st century photographic publishing, it’s possibilities and perhaps a pitfall or two as well. These conversations were recorded and are now available to list/watch via the wee website linked here.

Dr Strangepub

These chats are not an attempt to classify modern photographic publishing or even to generate answers but instead to pose questions on the current state and value of photographic publishing from the live experience and handmade book to multi-platform outputs and print on demand technology.

As well as being able to see all the conversations now, I will post them one by one over the next month and we start with Bas Vroege below . I have also included below a better worded version of the above should you wish to share it (and please do!)

Thanks, and my sincere thanks to those involved – Andreas Schmidt, Bas Vroege, Casey Kelbaugh and Harry Watts.

– Matt

 

Bas Vroege is the Director of Paradox pictures based in the Netherlands. Paradox is a not-for-profit organization exploring contemporary issues through documentary photography.

Here Bas talks about the multifaceted approach that Paradox employs for the work it publishes and how new possibilities in publishing have helped to create more dynamic storytelling.

 

To recap 🙂

‘Dr Strangepub’ is an online publication of converstaions between Matt Johnston and a selection of 21st century photography publishers, each with their own thoughts on what publishing can offer us today and whether or not we are currently exploiting it.

These conversations are not just based on the future of digital plublishing but also the roll of the physical object in the digital age and how the breakdown of traditional gatekeeprs has liberated our options as content producers. This project is a collaboration between Matt Johnston, The Photobook Club and Coventry University School of Art and Design.

 

 

Paul Graham: Some Food for Thought #1

Paul Graham is by no means an obscure artist and so there are a bunch of places online to find out more about him, his work and his publications, I am just going to highlight a few.

For starters, Graham’s website is great – featuring a good selection of images from each of his projects:

There is also an interview with Richard Woodman on the site here, it’s well worth a read but might not tell those familiar with Graham, much more information.

I love Lost in Publications, if you only head to one more page from this ‘Food for Thought’ it should most definitely be to this page, featuring ALL Graham’s various publications.

Paul Graham on 'Lost in Publications'

A much more detailed interview with Paul Graham, conducted by Aaron Schumann can be found on seesaw magazine’s website.
“That type of photography had its time, and those types of social concern are still relevant, but we’ve just got to find a fresh language to express ourselves. Today, we don’t write books as we did in 1952; authors now explore the structure of a novel and what writing now means, as well as their subject matter” (PG)

Here, Peter MacGill of Pace MacGill Gallery discusses the work of photographer Paul Graham (Focusing on ‘A Shimmer of Possibility).

Alternatively, Graham himself talks us through one of the narratives from ‘A Shimmer of Possibility’

And for those who didn’t get to see the retrospective (or mid career survey as Peter MacGill would have me say) of Graham’s work as it toured Europe, here are some reviews of his output 1981-2006:

Alastaire Sooke of The Telegraph
“The secret behind their success is that they fuse an essentially American idea with a drizzly British sensibility”

Wayne Ford of Wayne Ford!
“Graham’s work remains faithful to its documentary origins – a commitment to life as it unfolds before the photographers lens”

Jonathan Dodds of The Illiterate Knife Rack
“…the photographs strike at the feelings and rage being experienced and expressed by a whole new generation of working class people in this country.”

Gerry Badger writing for the BJP
“He never repeats himself, never stands still and, while he has certain concerns revolving broadly around the nature of the photographic document (although he rightly hates the “D” word, as he calls it), treats each new project as a beginning, approaching the medium each time from first principles”

Liz Joney of The Guardian (Review of catalogue)
“”Without the energy to interrogate yourself, you’re dead,” Graham once said, and one of his strengths as an artist is his mutability. He is constantly testing what photography is capable of.

– Matt


Stephen Shore: Some Food for Thought #1

As we look at Stephen Shore’s ‘Uncommon Places’ this month I have been overwhelmed by the amount of great resources online to get your Shore fix on.  A few are linked below, these are by no means the only interviews/posts on Shore’s work, but offer a good starting point:


Interviews

Stephen Shore and Aaron Schuman ‘Uncommon Places’ 2004 (on Seesaw)
Select Quote: (reffereing to the original Uncommon Places)
“Well, I’m not turning my back on that work.  It’s all included in the new edition.  It’s just that, the original ought to have been twice the size to include other stuff.  That aspect of the project was that aspect of the project.  But, it just wasn’t the complete project.”

Stephen Shore and Ben Sloat ‘An Uncommon Interview’ 2007 (On ASX)
Select Quote:
“My book does not deal with the content of the pictures, it deals with what might be called the visual grammar of photography.”

James Welling puts five questions to Stephen Shore 2010 (on ArtInfo)
Select Quote:
“I take only one picture of a subject, even with a digital camera, unless I’m photographing something that is in motion or changing.”

Stephen Shore and Rong Jiang ‘The Apparent is a Bridge to the Real’ 2007 (on ASX)
Select Quote:
“I wanted to see what our culture was really like. I knew New York. And in “American Surfaces”, there were a good number of pictures taken in New York City. But I wanted to see a wider spectrum of a culture. I wanted to see the ordinary things that were not the news.”


Videos

Stephen Shore ‘Uncommon Places’ 2011
– Shore talks about his compositional style, technique and his choice to present images from Uncommon Places as unusually small prints.

Photo LA – La Brea Matrix      (Part 2)
– Shore joins a panel including Marcus Schaden to talk about the La Brea Matrix project of which he is both the inspiration for, and a part of.

Stephen Shore in Dublin
This short film follows Stephen Shore during a gallery setup in Dublin and it contains a conversation about one specific photo (New York City 2000/2002) between him and John Hutchinson, director of the gallery.

Stephen Shore in Paris 2010
– Phaidon produced this short video primarily concerning Shore’s journey into photography as well as Warhol’s influence on the photographer

Eggleston AND Shore
– William Eggleston and Stephen Shore share a stage in a brief interview

Uncommon Places, The Complete Book
– Of course our own video showing Uncommon Places (The Complete Works) in it’s entirety can be found here or at the end of this post

Posts

Blake Andrews on La Brea and Beverly

La Brea and Beverly (2011) by Blake Andrews
– Here Blake deftly melts together Shore’s original images made at the La Brea and Beverly intersection with a variety of quotes and other artworks made at the site from the likes of Banksy to Dalton Rooney who visited the site via Streetview.

Stephen Shore ‘Uncommon Places’ (2004) by Aaron Schuman
– A fantastic and detailed overview of Uncommon Places from Aaron Schuman

“Shore’s new book finally reveals that this extensive body of work has always essentially been a photographic autobiography-an autobiography of seeing”

Stephen Shore’s 1982 Artist Statement
– The original artist statement from the 1982 ‘Uncommon Places’ book

 

– Matt

And if you haven’t seen the book yet, check it out below:

Nobuyoshi Araki, Video Documentary and Interview

Below is a video exploring Araki’s contemporary practice as part of the video series ‘Contacts’ by Studio ARTE.
And as a bonus – below that is an interview between last month’s featured artist Nan Goldin and Nobuyoshi Araki!

Thanks to those who have submitted personal reflections, we will post these soon, and if you would like to comment, do so in comments section.

INTERVIEW: “Naked City: An Interview with Nobuyoshi Araki by Nan Goldin” (1995)

By Nan Goldin, ArtForum, January, 1995

In 1992, the editors of the Japanese Magazine Deja-Vu invited me to Tokyo to meet Nobuyoshi Araki. I’d already heard about this wild man of Japanese photography and of his diaristic, intensely sexual work. Araki had procured a copy of my Ballad of Sexual Dependency, though it’s unavailable in Japan due to stringent censorship laws. I was astounded to find a man on the other side of the planet who was working the same obsessions I was.

We met for the first time at Dug, his regular jazz bar in Shinjuku, where he presented me with a bottle of I.W. Harper Bourbon (his favorite drink) with my name on it. Now it’s stored there next to Robert Frank’s. He showed me his Tokyo that night; we went to the back-alley bars on the Golden Gai, bars that used to be brothels, and that seat about six people each. It’s said that no one can really translate Araki because he speaks in puns and jokes.

Most Japanese women are too shy to translate his endless sexual allusions, so when the women in his entourage blushed furiously, I’d say “Is he talking about his penis again?”

Araki is a superstar in Japan. You realize this if you chart his wake through the streets of Shinjuku–young girls screeching, yakuza gangsters pointing, salary men stopping dead in their tracks. No photographer in the West has this kind of public visibility. The people of Tokyo love Araki–he’s one of their own, a homeboy, and he loves them back: his work has been one long poem to his city of birth and of choice.

Araki has published almost a hundred books. He once told me he’d spent years as a commercial photographer making other people famous, and now he’s an artist making himself famous. Though he’s long been celebrated in Japan, his work has only recently been exported to the West, through the word of mouth of Western artists like Robert Frank, Jim Jarmusch, and myself. In the past few years he’s had retrospectives in Graz, Austria, and in Frankfurt, and gallery shows in London, Cologne, and New York.

As Araki’s work starts to spread, I’m sure some will find it misogynist. I don’t, but perhaps that’s because I know the man: I’ve seen and known his generosity and curiosity about people and about life, his love for and appreciation of women, his naughty-boy attitude toward what is taboo or revered or overserious. Much of his recurring imagery–girls in school uniforms, girls in complicated rope tricks, girls in love hotels–is popular in Japanese pornography; but Araki crosses the line between pornography and art. His work is colored by love, and meant as homage–to women and to beauty and to his own desires. In Japan, where women’s roles are in a period of flux and the idea of female identity in the Western sense is a new one, many young women find Araki’s images liberating. To show their bodies, to flaunt their sexuality, feels to them like freedom; teenagers flock to Araki to be photographed by him.

Since I first met Araki we’ve collaborated occasionally, and recently we published a book together, Tokyo Love. I believe he has attained greatness a number of times–in Araki’s Tokyo Erotomania Diary, and in Sentimental na Tabi/Fuyu no Tabi (Sentimental journey/winter journey, 1991), which he calls his “purest” book, a deeply moving record of his honeymoon with his wife, Yoko, in 1971, and then of her death from cancer in 1990. Araki is a driven man. On the day of our interview he’d done a long shoot at a rented studio in the afternoon. As usual, he had an entourage in tow, and we all headed for a Spanish restaurant to talk over squid-ink pasta eaten with chopsticks. Then we returned to the studio, where Araki held a workshop on photographing the female nude. Some of Tokyo’s leading directors, designers, editors, and actors were in attendance, and he kept them going till midnight.

NAN GOLDIN: One of the things Westerners feel about Japan is that it’s a very conformist society–as in that Japanese proverb, “The nail that sticks out must get hammered down.” Are you a nail sticking out?

NOBUYOSHI ARAKI: No, I’m not the nail that sticks out, probably because of my in-born vitue. I’m more like a naughty boy.

NG: In the text you wrote for our book together, Tokyo Love, you say you now only want to photograph happiness.

NA: Yes, but happiness always contains a mixture of something like unhappiness. When I photograph unhappiness I only capture unhappiness, but when I photograph happiness, life, death, and everything else comes through. Unhappiness seems grave and heavy; happiness is light, but happiness has its own heaviness, a looming sense of death.

NG: Why do you always say that photography itself has a smell of death?

NA: To make what is dynamic static is a kind of death. The camera itself, the photograph itself, calls up death. Also, I think about death when I photograph, which comes out in the print. Perhaps that’s an Oriental, Buddhist perception. To me, photography is an act in which my “self” is pulled out via the subject. Photography was destined to be involved with death. Reality is in color, but at its beginnings photography always discolored reality and turned it into black and white. Color is life, black and white is death. A ghost was hiding in the invention of photography.

NG: A lot of master photographers who have been working for a long time, like Robert Frank, Larry Clark, and William Klein, have become frustrated by still photography and have started making films.

NA: I resolve that feeling by working on the Arakinema show. It’s not the artistic process of shifting to another kind of expression that attracts me, it’s something more emotional–the biological impulse to bring the dead to life. I want to revive what photography has killed. Every photograph kills sound and words, reducing them to a flat print. I want to add sound and words. Films come close, but films by a photographer are usually another way of showing photographs. The photographer is just using movies to enhance the photo’s liveliness. Even if Frank, Clark, and Klein try filmmaking, I would doubt they become cineasts. They’d always remain photographers–just photographers presenting their photographs as films.

NG: What is the Arakinema–a movie? Stills shot on video?

NA: Arakinema is slides shown simultaneously on two slide projectors, so that the photographs overlap. What makes Arakinema compelling is that there’s a sort of sensuality of vision when photographs intertwine. My relationship with my subject is extremely important to me–I value that time and space of communication between myself and the subject when I’m working–so the more sensual the photograph is, the better. And if I mix old photographs with new ones in Arakinema, something I hadn’t noticed may come out. When I take photographs I collaborate with the subject; when I show photographs they collaborate with each other. And the relationship with the audience comes on top of that.

ara 746 08 INTERVIEW: Naked City: An Interview with Nobuyoshi Araki by Nan Goldin (1995)

NG: Have you ever made films?

NA: Around 1963, I made a 16-mm. film with a Bolex. It was like John Cassavetes. Back then, I was looking at Italian Neorealist films by Roberto Rossellini and Vittorio de Sica; I liked their documentary touch with boys and girls on the street, and their use of ordinary people as actors. I found an old prewar apartment in my neighborhood, and I followed the life of the boy who lived there, as if I was seeing myself in him. I was shooting 16-mm. film and at the same time taking still photographs of the same subjects. I collected the photographs in the book Satchin [the name of the boy Araki photographed], which was just published. So really l started with movies–I made three altogether.

NG: You were young then–20 or something.

NA: In 1964 I was 24. Perhaps my desire to show photos in series comes from my experience making 16-mm. films. Banmei Takahashi’s recent film The New World of Love contains a number of my photographs. That link with cinema has always been there.

NG: When did you start taking photographs?

NA: I was taking photographs before I made any films, but it was around the time I was making films that I got serious about taking photographs. I took my first photo at elementary school, on a school trip in the early ’50s. My father, who was an amateur photographer, had given me a camera called a Baby Pearl, and I brought it with me on the trip. I began by taking pictures of a classmate I liked, and of the Ise Shrine.

NG: A “Baby Pearl”?

NA: The Baby Pearl was a camera with a bellows, made in Germany or Japan, I’m not sure which. I began by taking pictures not only of girls but of scenery. More recently Tokyo Nude, for instance, has both nudes and scenery. So I’ve always been doing the same thing! I’ve made no progress.

NG: Your father was a shoemaker?

NA: My father owned a geta [wooden clog] shop in Tokyo. He took photos when he wasn’t working, and he was good at it–ordinary scenic photos. Typical, stereotype-Japanese photos with a field in the front and Mount Fuji in the back.

NG: Was he still living when you got famous?

NA: He was still alive when I won the Taiyo Award, in 1964, and the Taiyo Award was a prize for young photographers then. But my father came from the Shitamachi, which is a traditional working-class neighborhood, and he was also very shy, so he didn’t show he was happy. After he died, though, people told me he’d boasted about me and the prize to everyone. If he were still alive, and saw me with this foreign photographer called Nan Goldin, he would have been thrilled. I wish I could have shown him myself the way I am now.

NG: In Japan, people recognize you in the street. You’re a superstar. Are any other Japanese photographers as famous?

NA: I don’t think so. But most of the famous people in Japan travel in their cars, and I still ride the subway. I like to be out on the streets among the people.

NG: Given the sexual obsession in your work, and the strict obscenity laws in Japan, have you had trouble with the authorities?

NA: Yes, but with the police only, not with the people. The police once came to an exhibition of mine, but by chance I wasn’t there, which was kind of lucky because I would have been arrested on the spot. The gallery people were taken away. This was the “Photomania Diary” show, in April 1992. We had set up a huge light box with about 1,500 35-mm. slides, so they were really small; eight of them showed sexual organs. The cops looked at every single one with a magnifying glass.

NG: Are the “Obscenities” and “Bokuju-kitan” series a reaction to that?

NA: Yes. During the inquiry they gave me this simple rule that no photograph could show a sexual organ. So I had the idea of scratching the genitalia in the photographs to hide and erase them. In part, I had to teach people that genitalia are not obscene in themselves; it’s the act of hiding them that’s obscene.

During the war, whatever didn’t pass the censors in Japan was painted over with bokuju, or Chinese ink. So in my new book, Bokuju-kitan, I hid the genitals with Chinese ink, just to show the police that was more obscene. [Bkuju, Chinese ink, kitan, strange stories; Araki in punning on the title Bokuto-kitan, “Strange stories from east of the river,” a famous novel by Kafu Nagai.] But I wasn’t doing it just as resistance to censorship, or as a joke: I was creating another form of art. If obscenity laws can be used to create new art, maybe it’s ok to have a certain number of restrictions.

Since I began photographing genitalia, there’s been a trend toward allowing pubic hair to be shown in photos. When I was told I couldn’t show genitalia, I thought it might be acceptable to hide them by inserting what’s called an “adult’s toy” [a vibrator] in them, or some other foreign object. They said no. Maybe they realized that there’s essentially no eroticism in nudes; the body only becomes erotic when there’s some action or relationship. What I do with obscenity is in the tradition of the Edo period’s “spring pictures” [pornographic woodblock prints], which expose only the genitalia and the face and leave the rest of the body clothed. Maybe the future trend is not for “spring pictures” but for “spring photos”–that’s it!

ara 747 08 INTERVIEW: Naked City: An Interview with Nobuyoshi Araki by Nan Goldin (1995)

NG: What about women in Japan–some people in the U.S. will want to know whether you’ve had any complaints from them.

NA: Never at all. As far as I know, all women love me.

NG: What photographers have influenced you?

NA: I like photography so I like all the photographers before me, even if they’re lousy or not my style. But among foreign photographers, Frank, Klein, Eugene Atget, Walker Evans, Ed van der Elsken, and Brassai were the ones who stood out when I was young. I was working in advertising, at Dentsu, so I had access to foreign magazines and plenty of information. I remember seeing work by Richard Avedon and Irving Penn.

NG: I’ve always had the impression you particularly admire Frank. How did you meet him?

NA: Someone from Japan gave him my book Araki’s Tokyo Erotomania Diary. Later, when he was asked what Japanese photographers interested him, he said “Araki.” We met when he came to Tokyo. I think of him as an older brother. But he’s more serious than I am.

NG: Are you interested in American artists using photography, like Cindy Sherman?

NA: I like Cindy Sherman’s work, which isn’t that far from photography.

NG: What about Japanese photographers?

NA: When I started photographing, Ihei Kimura and Ken Domon were active, but they were completely different from me. The photographers I associated with and liked included Shomei Tohmatsu, Daido Moriyama, and, among the less-known ones, Takuma Nakahira. But Japanese photography was itself influenced by Europe in the ’20s and ’30s and then by America. In the ’60s and ’70s we all looked at Frank and Klein, and at the catalogue of the U.S. exhibition “Contemporary Photographers–Towards a Social Landscape” [at the George Eastman House, Rochester, in 1966]. I might have been influenced by those photos. I don’t want to see it as “influence,” though: I am more influenced by my subjects, women and the streets, than by other photographers. People abroad are interested in my photographs now because I’ve always worked in Tokyo. My work has nothing to do with influence from the West; it’s based on my relationship with my subject.

NG: Does success in Europe or America interest you?

NA: Not much. I don’t travel abroad. I don’t have much of a desire to have everyone around the world see my stuff. My new book, Bokuju-kitan, has only a thousand copies, but that’s all right.

NG: You wouldn’t just travel for pleasure, or to visit me?

NA: If it’s going to be just the two of us, Nan, I’ll start English classes tomorrow.

NG: But you wouldn’t travel to take photographs?

NA: I did photograph in New York once, in 1979, and it was really exciting. But I use words in the process of photographing, so its difficult taking pictures overseas. I usually talk to the model as I’m shooting–it’s a “word event.” Words wouldn’t be necessary if I were looking at the subject as a “thing,” an object, but I want to capture my relationship with the subject, the action between us, the flow of time and mood. If I were photographing foreigners I’d really have to study the language.

NG: What about the lexicon [Arakeywords: The Araki Lexicon]?

NA: The book is in progress, with a Japanese writer. It will be like a dictionary of me. The writer has already put together nearly 500 words I invented–my keywords.

NG: How many books have you published?

NA: About a hundred.

NG: In Europe and America, if you have more than five or six books, they start to think you’re getting too popular–that you’re overexposed. Do other Japanese photographers publish so much?

NA: No, but I’m a kind of photo-play-aholic. People say I’ve published a lot, but essentially I think photographs should be taken and published fast. The nature of the medium doesn’t require you to consider everything and work it out thoroughly.

NG: How long does it take you to plan a book?

NA: There’s no specific rule–sometimes a month, sometimes a year. It depends on how I feel.

NG: Have you ever collaborated with any other photographer on a book, as you did with me?

NA: Collaboration is a kind of love affair. No, I’ve never collaborated with any other photographer.

NG: Do you have any favorite among your books?

NA: Sentimental na Tabi/Fuyu no Tabi (Sentimental journey/winter journey). I have to pick that book, because it marked the start of a new phase of my work. What I said earlier about my desire to shoot happiness and the joy of living has to do with the fact that I showed death in that book. I’ve taken a variety of photographs since then, but eventually they boil down to the idea of photography being simply a diary, a record of what happens day to day.

NG: What’s your latest obsession, your latest body of work?

NA: I have an obsessional subject: “From death toward life.” And I’m working on a diaristic work–a book of photos all taken with a compact camera, to be published in the spring.

NG: For me, the fact you’ve done so many books is one of the things that’s inspiring about your work. Another is that you’re the only photographer I know who uses whatever format you want.

NA: Photography is a collaboration with the camera, and every camera is unique; our time can’t be captured by a single camera. Using one camera is like being confined to a fixed idea. If I photograph a woman with a six-by-seven, medium-sized camera and then fast with a compact camera, the photo will be different. If you take the camera as “man,” it’s as if I throw four or five men at a woman. Obviously her response differs depending on who he is. There’s also a difference depending on whether it’s a camera I have a lot of experience with, one I’m using for the first time, or one that’s hard to use.

NG: An old lover and a new lover.

NA: Love too depends on the kind of person you’re dealing with.

NG: Do you ever photograph men or boys?

NA: Only a few, but I’d like to photograph more. I photograph because of my relationship with the subject. I’m a late bloomer, and am immature when it comes to relationships with men. Perhaps I should start.

NG: Aren’t you going to Osaka to photograph a boxer?

NA: Yes, his name is Tatsuyoshi Joichiro. Someone asked me to a fight; I’m very interested to go. What I want to photograph, though, is not the match itself but the training, in the small space that is his world. He’s on the brink of his career, he’s insecure, he’s not sure he’ll win. I’m interested in men’s weakness.

NG: Do you ever have sex with your models?

NA: Almost always. A photo shoot is very erotic; it’s part of the atmosphere.

Nan Goldin: Some food for thought #1

There is an abundance of online resources for those looking to learn more about both ‘The Ballad of Sexual Dependency’ and Nan Goldin herself. I have compiled just a few of these together, firstly looking at interviews:

Nan Goldin interviewed by Adam Mazur and Paulina Skirgajllo-Krajewska
Quote:
“I went to school and there was a teacher who showed me Larry Clark. It has entirely changed my work. I knew that there had been somebody else who had done [photographed] their own life.”

‘The Dark Room’: Nan Goldin interviewed by Sheryl Garratt
Quote:
“The music we were brought up on, the TV, the movies, the images our parents gave us aren’t of what relationships are really like. They didn’t prepare me, at least, for the ambivalence that’s normal in any real relationship”

Nan Goldin interview: Madonnas, skulls and a lamb with seven legs by Celia Walden
Quote:
“I’ve been called narcissistic, self-centred and voyeuristic but there are a lot of things in between, like compassion and love.”

I’ll be your Mirror: Interview with Nan Goldin by Kathy High
Quote:
“The most important thing about this film to me is that unlike slide shows, you can’t update them, and that everybody’s life has changed so much since that film. Greer is dead. David broke up with his boyfriend. Sharon and her girlfriend broke up. Both David and Sharon have lost about forty pounds. Bruce is back on drugs. There’s no way to update it, so it seems like historical fact, where it was only true for that year.”

Nan Goldin on the 80’s: Interview with Tom Holert
Quote:
“The text I wrote for The Ballad of Sexual Dependency was about what family meant to us. Perhaps I was idealizing what had gone on, but there was a solid basis.”

©NAN GOLDIN

And bonus:
Nan Goldin interviews Nobuyoshi Araki
“We met for the first time at Dug, his regular jazz bar in Shinjuku, where he presented me with a bottle of I.W. Harper Bourbon (his favorite drink) with my name on it. Now it’s stored there next to Robert Frank’s.”

– Matt