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Erotism to the Limits of Rawness: Nobuyoshi Araki


December 26, 2015

Nobuyoshi Araki has spent more than half a century photographing the sexual power of the female body.

If one photographer has taken the female body to the limits of representation, it is Nobuyoshi Araki. Born in 1940 and still active at the age of 75, Araki continues to shock Japan’s conservative society with his female nudes, and which have caused him occasional clashes with Japanese feminists.

Despite the controversy, it is impossible to deny that the almost octogenarian’s photographs contain an underlying, whispered lyricism and ultra sensitive treatment of spaces that create a dialog with the female body that, beyond a superficial reading conditioned by prejudice, demand study and a subverting of the discriminatory values that surround women’s bodies.

We are unaware whether the sudden death of his wife had any influence on Araki’s obsession. In any event, the photographer’s work had begun in earnest since their honeymoon, during which he photographed his wife and later published the shot in a book entitled Sentimental Diary. In the book, Araki blatantly demonstrated his lack of shyness when it came to mixing his private and public life. His wife’s sexually ecstatic expression is captured with an almost anthropological gaze, with that mixture of perversion and awe that subtly characterizes the provocative quality of his photos.

woman in bondage

But perhaps the most disturbing element, at least for a non-Japanese public, are his images of women tied up with ropes. Hanging from the ceiling or tied to a bed in openly provocative postures and which clearly show the genital aperture, Araki’s women are revealed to us surrounded by a complex binding that impedes their movement and brutally molds their physiognomy. But the photos in fact show an ancient tradition. Shibari or Kinbaku is an erotic art that developed in medieval Japan. Far from being considered a sadomasochistic practice, it is elevated by its protagonists to an art form. Originating from a samurai technique that served to show respect for prisoners, Kinbaku became a subtle method of sexual stimulation through which, it is assumed, a rapid release of endorphins is achieved. Viewed thus, Araki’s photos appear as living sculptures of pleasure in which the Kinbaku technique is elevated to its maximum purity.

As stated earlier, and without ignoring his evidently provocative character (let’s not forget that Araki has photographed himself dressed as a priest), Araki’s photos reclaim the female body. The women’s complicated poses appear to recall the commodification of women’s bodies that, due to the frontal nature with which they are treated, attacks the hypocritical eye of Japan’s patriarchal society, wounding it with evidence of its own prejudice.

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