I’m writing this post from my father’s Victorian house on the Isle of Wight (for those that don’t know, that’s an island off the South coast of England, widely believed to be populated by inbreds with poor dental care). It’s peaceful and spacious here, and I have the whole place to myself for three days, so naturally I’m celebrating by chain-drinking green tea, playing Björk at full blast and leafing through photographs of Japanese women in bondage. You know how it is, right?
Actually I’m reading Taschen’s beautiful homage to the photographer Nobuyoshi Araki. He’s one of the most prolific artists of all time, having released somewhere around 450 photo books, sometimes 20 a year. I’ve been familiar with his unflinching and intimate documentation of Japanese life since the book appeared on my father’s bookshelf when I was about thirteen.
I read this brilliantly weird interview with the photographer on Vice today, which starts out as a sort of fight between interviewer and interviewee. When the sparring is over, and Araki has decided that Tomokazu Kosuga is worthy of his time, he goes on to discuss the transition from erotic photography to “happiness photography”. I suggest you read the whole thing, but here are a couple of my favourite moments just in case you don’t get round to it:
Well, let’s talk about your book Kofuku Shashin [“Happiness Photographs”]. Compared to your old photographs, these were more reminiscent of keepsake portrait pictures that fathers take of their families. It seemed to me like they are crossing a line that was almost taboo in your former photographs. What made you shift your perception so drastically?
So you noticed that, eh? You’re not so clueless after all. [laughs] It’s probably because right now, I believe that “happiness is the best state.” That’s all. Rather than shooting something that looks like a professional photograph, I want my work to feel intimate, like someone in the subject’s inner circle shot them. Now that I’m older, I can finally say that happiness is truly the best state to be in. It’s so cheesy, right? When you’re young you try to keep a distance from your subject and be really cool about everything, but eventually this is what you come to feel. I also noticed that both professional and amateur photographers have stopped shooting these kinds of photos. So I tried doing it myself, and guess what? It’s way more difficult than shooting stuff like EROTOS. With EROTOS you just try to be as horny as possible and it works, but with Kofuku Shashin it’s all about creating a relationship with your subject. It’s just not the same.
You once said that “a camera is a penis,” and your stance was all about unleashing that tool onto your subjects.
Sure. But now it’s become a cunt, the exact opposite. Now I’m the one that accepts and embraces, just like a vagina.
So, any interesting things happen to you lately? What else is new?
Everything is always interesting to me. One thing that comes to mind is that I’m currently doing an exhibition in Berlin called Kinbaku [“Bondage”], consisting of 101 black-and-white photographs. We held an opening party and everybody went crazy. People overseas are so fascinating—there are so many weirdos. Even TV interviews are different. They’d be like, “I brought a rope, please tie me up,” and they’d conduct the rest of the interview tied up in rope. The camera’s still going and everything, you know? There was another incident—obviously I can’t speak the language so I don’t exactly know what was going on—where this huge fan of mine suddenly took all her clothes off in the middle of the venue and began grinding her hips. I was like, “What the fuck?” and then she suddenly pulled out a tampon from her slit and came toward me swinging the damn thing above her head!
She was utterly crazy. It was unreal! [laughs] So yeah, those kinds of things are interesting to me, little incidents like that.
All of Araki’s images (be they girls lit like hollywood stars and tied up like joints of meat, or suggestive orchids aswarm with insects) are seductive and disturbing in equal measure. They’ve got me thinking about the increasing difficulty in pinning down what ‘sex’ really is. The word has become applicable to everything; food is sex, music is sex, art is sex. Physical contact is just the tip of a very complex, indecipherable iceberg, and sometimes it’s nothing compared to the elaborate striptease that is daily life. For me, Araki’s photographs say this effortlessly (though he’d probably disagree if the Vice interview is anything to go by). I’m almost sure that I’m over-romanticizing the whole thing, but forgive me, because the closest thing I’ve come to sex in the last 8 months was eating a mug full of melted chocolate with a spoon whilst ogling Leonardo Di Caprio in Romeo and Juliet. Actually, that was probably better than sex.
Anyway, it’s well past midnight and I have doors to lock and corridors to run through, because as beautiful as they can be in the daylight, big old houses scare the fuck out of me at night. On top of that, I just watched two episodes from The Killing boxset, and Sarah Lund’s woolly jumpers just aren’t soft and warm enough to distract from that chilling murder stuff anymore.