Kurt Easterwood on Stephen Shore’s ‘West Fifteenth’, A Conclusion

Here is the fourth and final extraction from an extended piece of writing by Kurt Easterwood of Japan Exposures. Kurt produced a fantasticaly rich deconstruction and analysis of Shore’s ‘West Fifteenth St. and Vine St., Cincinnati, Ohio, May 1, 1974’ featured in ‘Uncommon Places, The Complete Works’. The image in question can be seen on the right hand side of the image below and you can find the full PDF underneath the image or right here.

West Fifteenth St. and Vine St., Cincinnati, Ohio, May 1, 1974

PDF – Kurt Easterwood on ‘West Fifteenth’

A Conclusion

At most, Shore probably spent about 30 minutes standing at the corner of Fifteenth and Vine, framing the scene, adjusting the focus, measuring the light, preparing the film holder, and tripping the shutter. We can be fairly certain he did all these things blissfully unaware of Over-the-Rhine’s German immigrant antecedents, trends in outdoor advertising, or pawn shops as economic indicators. Nor is it likely that Shore took the inverted image he found on his camera’s ground glass and flipped it over in his mind, ruminating on what sociological discourse the graphical elements contained within his frame’s borders might conspire to conjure up for future travelers on his tour of uncommon places.

Thus there is a very real possibility that readers will bristle at my deconstruction of this photo, and the introduction of what may seem like incidental history and tangential politics in an attempt to locate the photo within a much broader context than Shore ever intended. Seeing as I’m likely guilty as charged on that count, in my defense let me stipulate that I see the tour I took of “West Fifteenth St. and Vine St., Cincinnati, Ohio, May 1, 1974” less as a deconstruction of an image and more a construction of a separate image, akin say to Mark Klett’s rephotography projects.  Like the spirit in which those are undertaken, the aim has not been to bring Shore’s original photo kicking and screaming into a context imposed from outside, or to re-align it to fight some rhetorical battle, but to merely have it in hand like a trusty map as I negotiate its spaces nearly 40 years later. It’s my hope that the new topography I have constructed as a result informs the old, much as Shore’s two-dimensional photographs in Uncommon Places built upon and informed their physical counterparts. READ MORE

– Kurt Easterwood

Kurt Easterwood on Stephen Shore’s ‘West Fifteenth’, The Photographers Presence

Here is the third teaser from an extended piece of writing by Kurt Easterwood of Japan Exposures. Kurt has produced a fantastic deconstruction and analysis of Shore’s ‘West Fifteenth St. and Vine St., Cincinnati, Ohio, May 1, 1974’ featured in  ‘Uncommon Places, The Complete Works’. The image in question can be seen on the right hand side of the image below and you can find the full PDF underneath the image or right here.

In this installation Kurt looks at Shore’s presence in the scene itself….

West Fifteenth St. and Vine St., Cincinnati, Ohio, May 1, 1974

PDF – Kurt Easterwood on ‘West Fifteenth’

As our last stop on this exploratory journey, a final sightseeing viewpoint as it were, let’s ponder for a moment one more spot at the corner of Vine and Fifteenth, the spot Shore placed his tripod and set up his view camera to capture this scene. Shore’s presence, and the position of his tripod and camera, is referred to, if not exactly reflected in Lee Friedlander-like fashion, by the out of focus “Bus Stop: No Standing” sign that could be nowhere else but directly in front of where Shore was standing. We smile at the sign like we do at other occasional ironical signage in Uncommon Places — e.g. “MECCA” (p. 129) or “John F. Kennedy said: “ART IS TRUTH”” (P. 133) — as if Shore were thumbing his nose at the municipal establishment that would deign to tell him where he could or could not stand his tripod.

STEPHEN SHORE

PDF – Kurt Easterwood on ‘West Fifteenth’

The Photographer’s Presence

But telling people where they can or cannot stand in the form of municipal anti-loitering ordinances has long been a tactic used by city governments and police forces to exert undue control over citizens in lower-income areas. Three years before Shore took his photo, the U.S. Supreme Court had struck down Cincinnati’s own anti-loitering ordinance as unconstitutional. The ordinance had held that “It shall be unlawful for three or more persons to assemble, except at a public meeting of citizens, on any of the sidewalks, street corners, vacant lots, or mouths of alleys, and there conduct themselves in a manner annoying to persons passing by, or occupants of adjacent buildings.” In a footnote to his opinion, Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart wrote that, “The alleged discriminatory enforcement of this ordinance figured prominently in the background of the serious civil disturbances that took place in Cincinnati in June 1967,” by which he was referring to race riots in the Cincinnati neighborhood of Avondale that spread over into Over-the-Rhine.

The sign can then be read not just as a joke of Shore’s own making, but as an ironic and not necessarily unintentional questioning of Shore’s right to be there, assembling these elements in a manner annoying to persons passing by, “an alien element impeding the activity on the street.”  READ MORE

– Kurt Easterwood

Kurt Easterwood on Stephen Shore’s ‘West Fifteenth’, The History

The second teaser from an extended piece of writing by Kurt Easterwood of the awesome Japan Exposures. Kurt has produced a fantastic deconstruction and analysis of Shore’sWest Fifteenth St. and Vine St., Cincinnati, Ohio, May 1, 1974′ featured in  ‘Uncommon Places, The Complete Works’. The image in question can be seen on the right hand side of the image below and you can find the full PDF underneath the image or right here.

A huge thank you to Kurt for opening this great piece of writing up to the Photo Book Club community.

West Fifteenth St. and Vine St., Cincinnati, Ohio, May 1, 1974

PDF – Kurt Easterwood on ‘West Fifteenth’

History

Fifteenth and Vine is in Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine (or OTR) neighborhood, one of the oldest parts of the city. It came to prominence — and indeed acquired its name — from the many German immigrants who worked there in the 1800s and later settled in the area and built many of the homes and buildings that stand to this day. By the turn of the century, Cincinnati, along with cities like Milwaukee and St. Louis, was home to one of the largest Germany immigrant communities in the United States. However, while already in a long, slow decline in the first half of the 20th century — in particular, its many breweries were hit hard by Prohibition — OTR’s fortunes declined rapidly after World War II as so-called “white flight” began to take hold, with residents moving to outlying suburbs and retail businesses following them shortly thereafter. The deteriorating structures became a source of cheap housing for a successive wave of first poor whites from Appalachia and then African Americans displaced from the historically black neighborhood of West End that had been demolished in part by the construction of an expressway — an expressway that if not a literal escape route was at least a figurative thoroughfare that helped pave the way for whites’ exodus to suburbia.

At the time when Shore took his photograph, the population of OTR was only around 15,000, a significant drop from a population of 45,000 in 1900. One-third of these remaining residents were African American. By 1990, less than 10,000 people lived in the area, 71% of them African American. 5 In 2001, Vine Street and the surrounding areas were the scenes of a race riot when an African American teenager was shot and killed by a member of the overwhelmingly white Cincinnati police force. As of this writing, Vine Street and various other places in OTR are part of a massive urban renewal project, and indeed most of the land and buildings in the 1400 block of Vine Street, which comprises much of Shore’s photo, are now owned by a tax-exempt, private, non-profit corporation called The Cincinnati Center City Development Corp., or 3CDC, which has renovated or is in the process of renovating the structures for loft apartments or retail spaces. READ MORE

– Kurt Easterwood

Stephen Shore at SFMOMA…

I hope some ‘Club readers were able to get tickets to Shore’s talk at SFMOMA last week, for those that did not, luckily Stan Banos was in attendance and has written about the talk and Shore’s style over here. Also in attendance was Mark Wilson who, after enjoying Kurt Easterwood’s extended writing on ‘West Fifteenth and Pine…’ got the photograph below of Shore with said image. Big thanks to Stan and Mark!

IMAGE: MARK WILSON

If you haven’t checked out Kurt’s fantastic piece on this image, you can do so by reading the PDF below.
PDF – Kurt Easterwood on ‘West Fifteenth’

I should also point out that due to all the great contributions this year, we may run slightly into March with this book! Not even the added February day of the Gregorian calendar can help us here. (And as a heads-up, following the weekend, we will be looking at Sally Mann’s ‘Immediate Family’)

Kurt Easterwood on Stephen Shore’s ‘West Fifteenth’, An Extended Introduction

Kurt Easterwood of the awesome Japan Exposures has produced an extended piece of writing on one of Shore’s images featured in ‘Uncommon Places, The Complete Works’. The image in question can be seen on the right hand side of the image below and as well as finding the full PDF underneath the image or right here, this is the first post also featuring an extraction from the full article, this time an extended introduction to the full article.

A huge thank you to Kurt for opening this great piece of writing up to the Photo Book Club community.

West Fifteenth St. and Vine St., Cincinnati, Ohio, May 1, 1974

PDF – Kurt Easterwood on ‘West Fifteenth’

An Extended Introduction

I would like to explore Uncommon Places: The Complete Works by looking at a single photo, a photo that like all the photos of Uncommon Places can only be referred to by its caption, “West Fifteenth St. and Vine St., Cincinnati, Ohio, May 1, 1974”, which appears on page 43. This photo was not included in the original publication, and while it would certainly be a useful exercise to discuss why not, I would rather take Shore’s inclusion of the photo in the revised edition to mean that for him the photograph is an important part of the complete work.

It is tempting to be self-deprecating on the photograph’s behalf and acknowledge that it’s true there is nothing particularly compelling about this photo that would cause it to stand out in relation to the other photographs in the book, but saying that would imply that Uncommon Places: The Complete Works contains stand-out photographs. It does not, which is precisely why it is such a wonderful book to look at. The power of Uncommon Places is not the sort where each turn of the page knocks us back into a sublime revelry. Its power rather results from an accumulation of what Gerry Badger has called “quiet” photographs 3, and it is this quiet tone that allows us, if we are so willing, to journey along with Shore, and occasionally to step off and linger a bit at stops along the way, to explore further.

Several years ago when I got my copy of Uncommon Places: The Complete Works, this ordinary, dare I say nondescript, photograph taken in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1974 caused me to dwell and ponder a bit longer than the others. For personal reasons (I had a suspicion I had once been on this section of Vine street during a visit to Cincinnati in 1987), and for graphic, visual reasons (there was something in the denseness of the signage on the left side of the photo, and a single, dominant sign on the right side that visually appealed to me), I felt compelled to explore the photo further. What follows is an account of this one stop on Shore’s larger journey — my journey within a journey, we could say — and what I found at West Fifteenth and Vine in Cincinnati. READ MORE

– Kurt Easterwood

West Fifteenth St. and Vine St., Cincinnati, Ohio, May 1, 1974

Super excited for this ‘mini-series’ which will be posted over the last week of our Stephen Shore month. Kurt Easterwood of the awesome Japan Exposures has produced an extended piece of writing on one of Shore’s images featured in ‘Uncommon Places, The Complete Works’. The image in question can be seen on the right hand side of the image below and as well as finding the full PDF at the bottom of the post or right here, there will be 4 posts coming up with little sneak peaks.

A huge thank you to Kurt for opening this great piece of writing up to the Photo Book Club community.

West Fifteenth St. and Vine St., Cincinnati, Ohio, May 1, 1974

“A few years ago when I got Stephen Shore’s revised Uncommon Places book, I couldn’t get over how familiar the places looked to me, though surely most of the towns and places he shot I’ve never been to. But one image was more familiar than any other — a street scene from Cincinnati. “I’ve been here!”, I remember exclaiming to myself, and I started to take notes about the image. Now five years later, I’ve used Shore’s photo (and my notes) to visit that photo, that place, one more time.”

– Kurt Easterwood

PDF – Kurt Easterwood on ‘West Fifteenth’

Matt Johnston on ‘Sentimental Journey’, a personal reflection

From the moment you pick up Sentimental Journey, it feels like an occasion. Removing the bright red ‘diary’ from it’s slipcase creates an intimate viewing, I feel like I should ask permission before turning the first page.

If we are to follow Araki’s intended sequence, the first page is the last page (at least to a western [left to right] book reader), but it is testament to the book that so many read in the opposite direction and still find a fantastic and compelling narrative.

I have read this book front-to-back, back-to-front and on numerous occasions, dipped straight into the middle and explored outwards. On my first viewing, I read from right to left, in chronological order, and I’m glad I did, as I will never get that first viewing back. For me, more than any other photobook, ‘Sentimental Journey’ changes drastically after the first viewing, I cannot help but read the images differently knowing the events to come. And so I hope that those who have not yet seen the book, will take the time to view it in it’s entirety.

I think it is a shame to call ‘Sentimental Journey, Winter Journey’ a sad story, but it  also feels unfair not to touch upon the sadness and loss shown on these pages. Perhaps it would be more appropriate to call ‘Sentimental Journey’ a human story. Araki exposes us to the extremes of human emotion, of love and lust and death, but never allows us to stay too long, and always affords us time to contemplate. This is a book that flows gently, but at a pace that keeps the eye from lingering, and instead we have respite in the images of the everyday through Araki’s eye.

It is these in-between moments I have become more drawn to as I have read and re-read the book, just as we notice small details in films the second time around. As we near the end of the book these moments begin to form a routine and a pattern within the larger body of work. I feel I understand how Araki sees the world, how he relates to it, and how he enjoys the subtle changes occurring in his apartment, balcony and environment from day to day. Settling into this routine highlights Araki’s emotions when the sequencing becomes restless and perhaps more sporadic as we approach the end of the book, an of the narrative.

The toning and aesthetic of the images combined with the off-white paper gives an almost ethereal feel, but I always remember the book as a series of crisp, bold, black and white Images. I don’t know why, perhaps I cannot remember enough to replicate the immersive experience of sitting down with this book and reading from cover to cover.

– Matt

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.

VIDEO – Nobuyoshi Araki’s ‘A Sentimntal Journey, Winter Journey’

Here, from cover to cover is Nobuyoshi Araki’s ‘A Sentimental Journey, Winter Journey’ for those who have not been able to see a copy.
(My thanks to Coventry University Library for the loan of this copy)

A beautiful object in its own right, I would still urge those who can to see this in the flesh.

If this is your first time viewing the book, we would love to hear your thoughts, drop them in the comments section below or in an email to mail@photobookclub.org

– Matt

Matt Johnston on ‘The Ballad of Sexual Dependency’, a personal reflection

I have never truly enjoyed Goldin’s ‘Ballad’ as much as I feel I should, but I have always had a copy on my shelf.

I have it because of the confirmation it provides that turning one’s camera onto your own ‘tribe’, onto what you know and live, can be as interesting as a trans-continental adventure with a plate camera and entourage of assistants. Goldin’s friends and ‘characters’ may be more universally interesting than many but if another photographer had parachuted into these situations, the result I am sure, would not be looked at with the same appreciation ‘Ballad’ is today.

I have a copy of ‘Ballad’ to challenge me, I have bought too many books based on their aesthetics and subject matter that have gone on to rarely be opened. I know what is in them, I understand it, I like it, I know it. ‘Ballad’ is a beautifully honest, yet awkward film to me, the kind that you will keep watching, and re-watch, and discuss, but never truly understand, and never fully enjoy.

I am also frustrated by the book. I am aware that a book may rarely give a complete view of a subject, but ‘Ballad’ seems to be missing so much, the work lives far beyond the pages, in slide shows, and music and talks, in bars and rooms once occupied by Goldin and her tribe. I feel the book only scratches the very surface of a much larger being.

I am glad to hear others views on this book, if only to be reassured that I am not the only one who has a strange respect rather than love relationship with it.

©NAN GOLDIN

– Matt Johnston