Nobuyoshi Araki – Untitled (19XX)
After college, I moved to Greenpoint, Brooklyn. I’m not talking McGuinness & Nassau, either. We’re talking practically under the Kosciusko Bridge.
It was a 15 minute walk to the Nassau G and either 13 or 18 (depending on traffic) to the Graham L.
By New York standards, my room was enormous. But I shared a wall with a Dave Grohl wannabe sax player who constantly practiced atonal three note arpeggios at odd hours.
I was only working part time and after commutation expenses, it was a struggle to make rent each month.
At the time, my significant other was in a similar place. We spent a lot of time walking–which really and truly is the best way to get to know this city. We’d hang out at hip bars sipping a beer between us. Anything that was free and appealed to our mutual creative predispositions was a draw. But if you’ve spent any time in this city, you know it’s not a place you want to be poor.
It took us two months to discover the New York Public Library. Not the one with the Lion’s guarding the stairs but the one that’s caddy corner and a block down. Over the next few months, we spent hours there pouring over their photography section.
Thing was–and I swear I’m circling back to the image above, hang in there–the selection lacked any sort of breadth and instead focused on an obsessive depth. The number of fucking Araki’s books exceeded a plethora to the exponent of plethora.
I remember three things about the work:
- An image like this except with an orange and black flower with petals more like a daisy and Araki himself squatting beside the suspended model.
- It was the only thing besides Goldin where sexuality figured in any denotative fashion in the photos,
- I preferred Goldin even though I found her work exploitative.
My opinion w/r/t Goldin has evolved rather dramatically; my thinking w/r/t Araki has, yes, shifted but it’s less pronounced and far more complicated to explain.
See: on a purely formal level his work is on-point. His compositions are impeccably executed and his work is hugely influential: would Wolfgang Tillmans be a name anyone knew if Araki hadn’t shot highly styles hair and eyes? Probably not. (Also, the shit he shoots that subtly skewers skewers fake sets in high profile fashion shoots–looking at you, Tim Walker–are about as good as polemical provocations get.)
I can’t even really argue that Araki should pursue more aggressive edits. If he’s published it, it’s almost certainly publication worthy. My primary continued objection to his work (beyond the aggressive heteronormativity of it) has to do–synchronously enough–with an idea I encountered more or less concurrent with my first encounter with the work: William Ian Miller’s The Anatomy of Disgust. In it he attempts to analyze why humans experience feelings of disgust.
One of his points is that profusion is–almost counter-intuitively–a potential locus for disgust. I don’t completely recall the rational underlying this assertion but it absolutely serves in application to my queasiness regarding Araki: there’s too much that’s too good.
The thing that’s especially galling is the fact that almost seems to be the point of the exercise. And I’m no less sure how I feel about that now than I did eight years ago.