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Monday, January 28, 2013

Araki Nobuyoshi: "AKT-TOKYO. 1971-1991" (1992)

By the time Araki Nobuyoshi (b. 1940, Tokyo) was first introduced to an European audience through the 1992 traveling exhibition NOBUYOSHI ARAKI: AKT-TOKYO. 1971-1991organized by Camera Austria in cooperation with the Forum Stadtpark in Graz, the artist had already published his multifaceted work in more than 80 photobook and magazine publications inside Japan. 

Considering his still ongoing prolific artistic output resulting in an ever increasing number of printed matter, the exhibition's approximately 100 photographs - selected by Furuya Seiichi and Manfred Willmann - might seem in retrospect to some as insufficient to offer a profound understanding of the artist's work. Given the fact that Araki had until then only been known to a relatively small connoisseurship outside of Japan who had then already been faced with the challenge of reviewing two decades worth of photobook and magazine publications, the curator's decision to restrict an introductory exhibition to a narrowed yet substantial choice of works is not to be undervalued. This proves to be essentially true when taken into account the decease of Araki's wife Yōko two years before the exhibition (she died at the young age of 42 on January 27, 1990).


Catalogue "Nobuyoshi Araki: AKT-TOKYO. 1971-1991 (Graz, 1992)".

Araki met Yōko first in 1968 and kept documenting their subsequent relationship in a number of by now much sought-after photobooks beginning with a highly intimate record of their honeymoon, the prominent Sentimental Journey (Self-published, 1971). The seemingly overlooked but in no respect inferior Sentimental Journey/Winter Journey (Shinchō-sha, 1991), in which Araki confronts a selection of photographs from the 1971 publication with a touching yet shockingly forthright photographic and written documentation of the physical decay of his terminally ill wife, marks simultaneously the begin of a new chapter in Araki's oeuvre as well as the end of the time period covered by the AKT-TOKYO exhibition. By highlighting these two seminal works and providing translations in German and English for some of the personal notes coupled with the images in the Winter Journey series, the exhibition catalogue offers an opportunity for viewers with insufficient knowledge of the Japanese language to appreciate the otherwise lost artistic expression accomplished by the juxtaposition of photography and text. 

It is precisely this striking combination of words and images that makes Sentimental Journey/Winter Journey arguably Araki's most successful manifestation of his proclaimed "I-Photography". The 1992 exhibition remains therefore within this context not only the first impulse for introducing Araki to an European and ultimately worldwide audience but also managed to achieve what following publications (with the exception of latest examples e.g., Setting Sun: Writings by Japanese Photographers, 2006) unfortunately often failed to do: offer non-Japanese photography researchers, collectors and enthusiasts an insight into photographers' writings and by doing so opening doors to a more profound understanding of the work of Araki Nobuyoshi as well as others alike.