For Japanese photographer Nobuyoshi Araki, ‘All Women are Beautiful’

The following post by Wayne Ford can also be found on Wayne’s Posterous blog here.

67 Shooting Back. (©Nobuyoshi Araki/Courtesy of Galerie Steph/Ooi Botos)

 In the mid-1960s, Japanese photographer Nobuyoshi Araki began documenting his young wife through a highly personal and intimate series of photographs titled, My Wife Yoko (1967-1976), this expansive body of work is now considered one of the photographers most significant, and would lead to the self-publication of the now seminal volume, Sentimental Journey (1971), the first of over 350 books since published by the prolific and at times controversial artist.

Crucially this work also marked a critical juncture in the development of ‘personal photography’ in Japan, in which the photographer and subject are inextricably linked, leading Araki to remark, ‘If I didn’t have photography I’d have absolutely nothing. My life is all about photography, and so life is itself photography.’

Post-war Japan was a particularly fertile period for photography, where a generation of photographers responded to social upheaval by creating a new visual language dubbed ‘Are, Bure, Boke’ (rough, blurred, and out of focus), and it is against this backdrop that Araki grew up. Writing in the accompanying catalogue to All Women Are Beautiful — an exhibition of twenty-two photographs at Galerie Steph in Singapore — art historian Charles Merewether, suggests that in particular, both Takuma Nakahira and Daido Moriyama and the group around the magazine Provoke — which sought to break the rules of traditional photography  — were of critical importance in influencing the young Araki, ‘because of their visceral engagement with their subject matter, especially the subject of the street and the expressive character of individual lives.’

‘A photographer looks at everything, which is why he must look from beginning to end. Face the subject head-on, stare fixedly, turn the entire body into an eye and face the world,‘ comments Shomei Tomatsu, one of the most influential photographers of the Provoke era. We can see this sentiment reflected in the work of Araki, whose oeuvre is wide and varied, stretching from his celebrated street photography, through still-life, to his female nudes, portraits, and his ongoing series featuring women in Kinbaku — a traditional form of bondage, which utilises an intricate series of knots each leaving a distinct pattern on the skin — a body of work for which he is possibly best known.

Lewd Painting. (©Nobuyoshi Araki/Courtesy of Galerie Steph/Ooi Botos)

‘Women now queue around the block outside Araki’s home just to be photographed, but his personal preference remains with the average, everyday woman,’ says Stephanie Tham, director of Galerie Steph. ‘I think he feels a bit more empathy with housewives because they are more pedestrian and simple, and he manages to make them look beautiful.’

Within a minimal white interior, a young woman dressed in a vibrant red and blue kimono sits on the floor, her long dark hair tied with a small red ribbon, and her gaze firmly fixed on the photographer. To her side, three plastic dinosaurs stand on a small table— a motif frequently encountered in Araki’s work — and the only other colour in the composition, at her feet we encounter a tangle of suggestive rope, and in the foreground we see Araki’s Leica. What we are experiencing in this beautiful photograph, is what the art critic Adrian Searle refers to as a ‘complicit menage-a-trois of photographer, model and camera, a kind of ritualised theatre of objectification.’

From the initial photographs of his wife, women have formed a subject at the very core of Araki’s artistic output, he ‘has developed a continuous exploration of women in the privacy of their own home and in his city Tokyo,’ writes Merewether. ‘He has rarely made photographs outside of Tokyo. They are neither photographs of the street nor of bars or public places yet, nonetheless, they are what Araki often refers to as “my Tokyo.” The photographs are about individual woman, their bodies, their exposure to another, to the outside. Often they occur as a result of requests from the women themselves. These photographs are neither pornographic nor sexual. Rather, they are intimate portraits and one can feel a kind of intoxication that comes from this contact.’

67 Shooting Back. (©Nobuyoshi Araki/Courtesy of Galerie Steph/Ooi Botos)

In his series of Lewd Paintings, Araki marks the surface of the photographic images with bold swashes of opaque colour, and inscribes them with kanji. We encounter a woman leaning against a wall, her arms tightly bound behind her back, the black ropes criss-crossing her chest, once again her gaze is fixed firmly on the photographers lens, with her kimono falling away to reveal her naked form. Around this black-and-white portrait, are daubs and layers of yellow, red, and aqua, heightening the tension within the image. In another image from the series, a woman lies naked on a bed, strong leather straps restrain her torso, whilst ropes bind her ankles, one hand is raised creating a haunting shadow on the wall, above her, occupying half of the composition is a dense mass of calligraphy, whilst below a wave of blues and mauves wash over her body.

‘Women? Well, they are gods. They will always fascinate me,’ says Araki, who frequently appears in his own photographs. In one such image, we see a beautiful young woman bound to the trunk of a tree, her vibrant blue and red kimono the only real colour in a sea of monchrome hues. To the left of the photographic frame, Araki stands making direct eye contact with the viewer, in his right hand he holds a pole with which he lifts the woman’s kimono revealing a dark waft of pubic hair.

In Araki’s photographs we experience what Searle refers to as ‘an injunction to make more of the things in life that matter; love of life and its complexity most of all, in the knowledge that one day it will all end.’

– Wayne Ford


Synopsis: Nobuyoshi Araki – ‘Sentimental Journey, Winter Journey’

Sentimental Journey, Winter Journey

Nobuyoshi Araki

Shinchosha Publishing, 1991


A relatively unknown photographer in the late 1960s, Nobuyoshi Araki began documenting his young wife through an intimate series titled My Wife Yoko (1967-1976), a body of work now considered one of the Japanese photographers most important.

From their honeymoon to their home life and vacations, we begin to understand the relationship between the young couple, a relationship that Araki continues to explore through his later series Winter Journey (1989/90), a period that that marks the final chapter in their lives together, as Yoko battles with terminal illness and they say their final goodbyes.

In ‘Sentimental Journey, Winter Journey’, both these series are combined in a hardcover book in slipcase.

We would love to hear from anyone who would like to add a personal reflection or comment into the discussion of this book, leave your comments below or pop us an email:

Purachase links:

Abe Books
Abe Books (UK)
Amazon (UK)


November’s Book is…. Nobuyoshi Araki, ‘Diary, A Sentimental Journey/Winter Journey’

In November we will be looking at Nobuyoshi Araki’s, ‘Diary, A Sentimental Journey/Winter Journey’
( This is the 1991 version which features both the original 1971 ‘Sentimental Journey’ and ‘Winter Journey’ images from 1990)


We will shortly post a video of the book for those who do not have a copy and cannot get access to one, although I strongly urge if at all possible to get hold of one at your local art library, or borrow from a good friend as it is, in itself, a beautiful object.

As always, we would love to feature as many personal reflections as possible, so leave any thoughts in the comments section or email

If you are interested in purchasing this book, links are provided below:

Abe Books
Abe Books (UK)
Amazon (UK)


Nan Goldin: Some food for thought #2

As mentioned in a previous post, there is an abundance of online resources for those looking to learn more about both ‘The Ballad of Sexual Dependency’ and Nan Goldin herself. A few of the many great videos/slideshows are shown below: (And if you think we have missed a key piece, let us know.

The Ballad of Sexual Dependency, Nan Goldin and The Tiger Lilies, Les Rencontres d’Arles, 11 July 2009 (Slideshow)

Nan Goldin: Contacts Vol2 slideshow/narration

Nan Goldin: I’ll be your mirror (Documentary)

Nan Goldin: Photography and Love (Extract from BBC series ‘Genius of Photography’


Share your thoughts on Nan Goldin’s ‘Ballad of Sexual Dependecy’

Goldin’s ‘The Ballad of Sexual Dependency‘ is by no means an undiscovered work, and as we will highlight, has been discussed and talked about many times, in many formats before. But this book never fails to invoke response from those who have either seen it 100 times, or those who are viewing it for the first time.

And we would really love to here from as many members of the Photo Book Club community as possible, so feel free to share your views in Twitter, Facebook, or in the comments section below. We are also happy to post any personal reflections on this blog (these do not have to be in praise of the book!) just leave your reflection in the comments or in email to

– Matt Johnston





Invisible City: A Summary

As I have mentioned often in this process we are truly thankful that Ken has taken the time to illuminate us through a book that the majority of readers had never seen in it’s entirety. And one that only gains from Ken’s insightful and open posts. I would like to think that this book has become more accessible in some form to its new audience, it absolutely deserves to be seen.

Below is a list of all posts and reflections that have been shared this past month, which forms the most comprehensive archive we have created yet.

– Matt


Invisible City: Synopsis
Invisible City: The Book and the Images (VIDEO)
Invisible City: The Text
Invisible City: Lecture notes from 1990
Invisible City: Nightwalk, Fragments and Alternates

Other Books by Ken Schles

Ken Schles On: The Photo Book Club Process
Ken Schles On: How Invisible City came to be
Ken Schles on: The rare and unique life of Invisible City (Addendum)
Ken Schles On: Invisible City and Photobook Lists
Ken Schles Appearing In: (Talks, exhibitions and signings)

Personal Reflections

Stan Banos
Jeff Brouws
Jn-Ulrick Desert
Ludwig Haskins
Matt Johnston
Steve Pyke
Nina Seigenfeld Velazquez



Matt Johnston on ‘Invisible City’, a personal reflection

The first thing I said upon seeing the ‘Invisible City’ in it’s entirety was simply, “wow”, unfortunately at the time I was across the table from Ken Schles himself who had kindly agreed to lend the Photo Book Club a copy. It was a ‘Frasier-like’ moment when I really wished I had something more intelligent to say.

I also wished that I had a memory of this time and place depicted in such dark tones within Ken’s images, I wanted to layer my own history onto Ken’s page and relive a particular time through different eyes. But I have no memory of Ken’s subject and so Invisible City was new for me, allowing me to search without reference and without the worry of reality or history. It was like reading a book as a kid, each character would come to life and create a movie in my mind. There are books in which the authorial presence is constant and reassuring, in Invisible City I felt I was left alone to wander and explore Alphabet city, a fascinating, daunting, exciting and entirely unfamiliar place to be.

To me, Invisible City is not just a poem to the night (As Jeff Brouws commented) but a poem to the book, a reminder of how powerful the book as a medium can be. Single images are erased from my mind as I follow the darkest black tones from page to page, much like a shadow stretching across the entire spread of images. A photobook is a selection of images, and a good photobook is a fantastically sequenced and edited selection of images. Invisible City is just one, single, poetic image.

– Matt Johnston





Invisible City: Nightwalk, Fragments and Alternates

I want to thank Matt Johnston and Wayne Ford so very much, once again, for taking on Invisible City. I hope people not already familiar with IC found something here. For me, this month has been a great ride. The Photo Book Club re-connected me to that challenging time—not only to people I once knew but it also reaffirmed bonds with people I’ve known on through into our current challenging times. I want to personally thank those who wrote so eloquently about their memories and the significance Invisible City had for them: Some of you I’ve met in later years and some I still have yet to meet—and look forward to meeting.

I have to say it’s been extraordinarily good timing for me to revisit Invisible City. It gave me insight on current work, as well as old. Because of this Photo Book Club process, I dug out things I barely remembered I even had. It’s help me with talks I am about to give and it was helpful in organizing the Invisible City images to exhibit at the Bursa Photo Festival. And good timing as well as I consider a reprint in the book’s future.

Over the summer I was approached to produce a piece for Paris Photo by Harper’s Books that worked in relation to Invisible City. And because my mind thinks in ‘book’ form, I put together a maquette of images and text I had originally considered for inclusion in Invisible City but that didn’t make it into the original for reasons about tone and emphasis. To this day I still enjoy seeing and reading this other work: they still share essential poetic qualities that infuse the heart of Invisible City; they still speak about that time and my experience of it. And so I made a small companion to Invisible City—Invisible City: Nightwalk, Fragments and Alternates. Because this is a one of a kind, hand-made thing, I videotaped it before sending off to Harper. I am now happy to share this rarity here with the Photo Book Club members to close out the Photo Book Club/Invisible City experience:

Images in this dummy have not appeared previously anywhere (if memory serves me) with the following three exceptions: image on left at the 2:11 mark, image at right at the 4:00 mark and the back cover image all appear in my book, A New History of Photography: The World Outside and the Pictures In Our Heads (plates 61, 35 and 31 respectively). The back cover image is also in the collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.


This is a hand-made 64 page book prototype (including covers) composed of material I considered for use in the book Invisible City (Twelvetrees Press, 1988). None of these images appear in the final printed version of the book, however. The images here were scanned from original prints used in a book dummy that was a forerunner to Invisible City. The plates used to print Invisible City were also made from this set of original prints. 

The book dummy ends with my original notes for a talk I gave at the International Center of Photography in 1990. The full text, including the excerpt by Kathy Acker, from Blood And Guts In High School, can be seen here.

Other text in this prototype:

Night draws from its body one hour after another. Each different, each solemn. Grapes, figs, sweet drops of quiet blackness. Fountains: bodies. Wind plays the piano among the stones of the ruined garden. The lighthouse stretches its neck, turns, goes out, cries out.
Crystals a thought dims, softness, invitations: night, immense and shining leaf plucked from the invisible tree that grows at the center of the world.

Around the comer, Apparitions: the girl who becomes a pile of withered leaves if you touch her; the stranger who pulls off his mask and remains faceless, fixedly staring at you; the ballerina who spins on the point of a scream; the who goes there?, the who are you?, the where am I?; the girl who moves like a murmur of birds; the great tower destroyed by inconclusive thought, open to ,the sky like a poem split in two … No, none of these is the one you wait for, the sleeper who waits for you in the folds of her dream.

Around the corner, Plants end and stones begin. There is nothing, nothing you can give the desert, not a drop of water, not a drop of blood. You move with bandaged eyes through corridors, plazas, alleys where three vile stars conspire. The river speaks softly. To your left, to your right, ahead, behind: whispers and cruel laughter. The monologue traps you at every step with its exclamations, its question marks, its noble sentiments, its dots over the i’s in’ the middle of a kiss, its mill of laments, its repertory of broken mirrors.
Go on: there’s ‘nothing you can say to yourself.
– Octavio Paz, from Eagle or Sun?

Remember when I insulted you? When I vomited all over you?
And when you had to see with these eyes that never close how I slept with that vile hag and talked of suicide? Show me your face,
Where are you? Actually, none of this matters to me. I’m tired, that’s all. I’m sleepy. Don’t these endless discussions tire you?
It’s as if we were a couple who, at five in the morning, with swollen eyes, continues on the rumpled sheets a quarrel started twenty years ago. Let’s go to sleep. Say good night. Show a little courtesy.
You are condemned to live with me and you ought to force yourself to make life more bearable. Don’t shrug your shoulders. Be quiet if you want, but don’t go away. I don’t want to be alone: the less I suffer, the more unhappy I am. Maybe happiness is like the foam of the painful tide of life that covers our souls with a red fullness. Now the tide recedes and nothing remains of that which made us suffer so. Nothing but you. We are alone, you are alone. Don’t look at me. Close your eyes so I can close mine. I can’t get used to your eyeless watching.
– Octavio Paz, from Eagle or Sun?

Memory is redundant: it repeats signs so that the city can begin to exist.
– Italo Calvino, from Invisible Cities

“The necessary condition for an image is sight,” Janouch told Kafka; and Kafka smiled and replied: “We photograph things in order to drive them from our minds. My stories are a way of shutting my eyes.”
– Roland Barthes, from Camera Lucida

At this point Kublai Khan interrupted him or imagined
interrupting him, or Marco Polo imagined himself
interrupted, with a question such as: “You advance
always with your head turned back?” or “Is what you see always behind you?” or rather, “Does your journey take place only in the past?”
– Italo Calvino, from Invisible Cities

Mind takes form in the city; and in turn, urban forms condition mind. For space, no less than time, is
artfully reorganized in cities: in boundary lines and
silhouettes, in the fixing of horizontal planes and
vertical peaks, in utilizing or denying the natural site, the city records the attitude of a culture and an epoch to the fundamental facts of its existence.
– Lewis Mumford, from The Culture Of Cities

Even when lovers twist their naked bodies, skin against skin, seeking that position that will give one the most pleasure in the other, even when murderers plunge the knife into the black veins of the neck and more clotted blood pours the more they press the blade that slips between the tendons, it is not so much their copulating or murdering that matters as the copulating or murdering of the images, limpid cold in the mirror.
– Italo Calvino, from Invisible Cities

I don’t believe people exist whose inner plight resembles mine; still, it is possible to imagine such people—but that the secret raven forever flaps about their heads as it does about mine, even to imagine that is impossible.
– Franz Kafka, from Diaries 1914-1923


Ken Schles On: Invisible City and photobook lists

Ken, perhaps you could talk a little about Invisible City’s relationship with ‘Best Photobook lists’?

The lists… I’m assuming you mean the Parr/Badger book, the Roth book and Hasselblad’s The Open Book — I don’t really want to say too much about them directly since the stories I know about Invisible City being included in them or not are all hearsay. I’m happy Invisible City was seriously considered. I’m gratified that other people would argue publicly and privately disappointment that it wasn’t included:
Here is a piece Bint photobooks blogged when the Parr book first came out, and here is Gerry Badger discussing it. This last thread contains good comments on the speculative prices of photography books.

I ran into Martin Parr the year before last at Arles. He gave me his Playas book and signed it: “to Ken — Invisible no longer.” Obviously I have a few things to say about history and being invisible and maybe my previous book A New History of Photography is a bit of a reaction to all these histories. No one person writes history and it’s problematic to second-guess these things when it is so very close to you.



I guess I can talk around it a bit, talk about the arbitrary turns that history plays upon us all. What seems important at the time and what becomes important in retrospect can be very separate things. I ran into Gail Buckland about a year ago after so many years—she was my history of photography prof in school and did the seminal research that established Fox Talbot as the inventor of photography (she came around over a hundred years later to sort that one out). She had some interesting things to say about how some work and some photographers arbitrarily have missed the boat of history or fell into it because of random decisions by curators or publishers or their own quirks. She told me about some photographers not wanting to have their work reproduced—that’s a buzz kill right there.



Reminds me a bit about photographers being paranoid about the Internet. Things that don’t get ported to new media can easily get lost. Certainly things that don’t get seen or become known do get lost. We are seeing it with film right now—old nitrite films are being lost forever as they decompose. Luckily books tend to kick around for a while and can be rediscovered. Yes, the work has to be good, but if it doesn’t get seen it can’t be remembered and might lay unopened on a shelf. What works for one generation may fall out of fashion and get picked up by the next, but if that next generation isn’t exposed to it in any form it can and will certainly die. What if Lisette Model didn’t show Diane Arbus the work of the little known German photographer August Sander? Torches need to be carried otherwise there will be no lights to guide those seeking things in dark corners.



Lists of the great photography books. Well, Invisible City did make it into one of those books. It is in Auer and Auer’s 802 Photo Books (#676). It lists the most important photography and photography related books of the last 250 years.

– Ken Schles


10% Off select Aperture titles for Meet-up Members

A huge thanks to the folks at Aperture publishing who have kindly offered the Photo Book Club community 10% off select titles, including Nan Goldin’s ‘Ballad of Sexual Dependency’ which we are looking at next month.

This special offer code will be sent to all members of our meet-up community at the beginning of next month. If you are not already part of this, you can add yourself below. And if you do not wish to be a meet-up member but would still like the code, please email Matt here.

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So what books are available to get 10% off?

Nan Goldin, The Ballad of sexual dependency

John Gossage, The Pond

Robert Adams, Summer Nights, Walking

Sally Mann, Immediate Family

Stephen Shore, Uncommon Places

Japanese Photobooks of the 60’s and 70’s

Fred Ritchin – In our own image

William Christenberry, Kodachromes

Rinko Kawauchi, Illuminance

Bruce Davidson, Subway