Nobuyoshi Araki - Photographs New York Tuesday, October 1, 2013 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Anton Kern Gallery, New York
    Private Collection, New York

  • Literature

    Araki, Shi Nikki/Private Diary

  • Catalogue Essay

    Nobuyoshi Araki’s deeply intimate approach to photography was launched with Sentimental Journey, a compilation of photographs taken of his wife, Yoko Aoki, during their honeymoon in 1972. Since then, the prolific photographer has published other photographic compilations, most of which, like the current lot, explore issues of balance through a series of binaries: life versus death, obscenity versus seduction,and desire versus repulsion, among others. For that reason, women have always presented themselves as the perfect vessel for Araki to explore life’s binaries. “Women have all the charms of life itself,” Araki has stated. “They have all the essential attributes: beauty, ugliness, obscenity, purity…much more so than nature. In woman, there is sea and sky. In woman, there is the bud and the flower.” The reiteration of complimentary pairs as a vital component in a woman’s being alludes to Araki’s passion for equilibrium. That is, his need to maintain a constant and circuitous flow permitting the co-existence of seemingly opposite ends, primarily in relation to nature, and subsequently, life.

    The current lot, 101 works for Robert Frank (Private Diary) was done in 1993, three years after the passing of Araki’s beloved wife. The images largely depict women in a kaleidoscopic array of positions, from the frontal and direct to the sinuous suggestive, as well as a variety of locations, be it in a stark studio or slumped over an unmade bed. In each image Araki explores a different sentiment and subsequently evokes a different reaction from the viewers. Collectively, the works present an emotional mosaic that boldly reflects the raw and unfiltered in Araki’s mind, unabashedly revealing each emotional reaction. Indeed, some of the images are unapologetically explicit in nature, demanding equal footing as their softer counterparts. Moreover, some of the images are non-figural,depicting still-life compositions, street scenes, architecture, his cat Chiro and the sky. Their presence punctures the emotional prowess of the collection and provides momentary reprieve by turning viewers’ attention to the casual, the banal and the ordinary, grounding the compilation in humanity and lending Araki an air of accessibility. That is, more than a desiring, hurting widower, Araki is also a man whose mind wonders about, exploring his environment and continuously ambling about his beloved Tokyo.

    Indeed, Araki’s birth city of Tokyo assumes a central role in his work, and it is by turning his lens to the city, arguably, that the work most closely references Robert Frank, himself a pioneer in American street photography. Incidentally, the present compilation is based on a unique scrapbook that Araki gifted to Frank during the latter’s visit to Japan during his exhibition at the Yokohama Museum. Like Frank, Araki presents snapshots of the streets that are neither revelatory nor condemning in their depiction. Rather, they are personal, seemingly casual snapshots that collectively reveal Araki’s tracks around the city, giving his viewers a view of the city that widely diverges from the more flashy attractions that are typically photographed. “It’s precisely this perfunctory sense,” Araki has said about the looseness in his approach to street photography, “this sense that you don’t know what’s going on, that makes an artist.” In that regard Araki insists on not just providing a personal view of his own mind but his environment—the streets he frequents, the architecture he finds impressive, the scenes that charm him, the sky views by which he is most moved. Not surprisingly, Araki has stated that "photography is synonymous with what relates to me. I don’t go somewhere simply to take photographs.’’

    It is also of note that the photographs are not in color, but in black and white. “Black and white photos represent death,” Araki has explained. The death addressed in the photographs is not literal but symbolic, as the images depict Araki’s proclaimed lifelines—beautiful women, his cherished Tokyo, and the cat he had raised with his wife. As such, the images attest to the acceptance of the harmonious concurrence of life and death in all of their endless manifestations—psychological, emotional, conceptual and otherwise—within a single man’s life. It is an acknowledgement that one cannot exist without the other and an ode to the beauty in accepting the many understated charms in a life explored to its fullest.


101 works for Robert Frank (Private Diary)

101 gelatin silver prints, each framed.
Each 7 1/8 x 10 7/8 in. (18.1 x 27.6 cm)
One signed and numbered '101' in pencil on the verso. Each sequentially numbered '1-101' in pencil on the verso. Accompanied by a Certificate of Authenticity.

It is believed that a maximum of 5 sets were printed of the current lot.

$80,000 - 120,000 

Sold for $100,000

Contact Specialist
Vanessa Kramer Hallett
Worldwide Head, Photographs
+1 212 940 1245


New York 30 September & 1 October 2013