[December 7 2015]
“Love on the Left Eye”, which refers to Ed van der Elsken‘s 1956 phonebook “Love on the Left Bank,” a series of gritty photos documenting Elsken’s time in Paris of the 50s where the Bohemian culture was a defining moment in history and the work of snapshot aesthetics in photography. Except this time the 75 year old photographer who in his 50 year career has pushed many boundaries is dealing with a very particular problem for photographers. Araki, due to a stroke and retinal artery obstruction, has not been able to see out of his right eye since October 2013.
The work is a series of hundreds of printed photographs from color slide film, unmounted and unframed 45.7 x 56 cm color positive prints. Before Araki made prints of the work, he covered the right side of the film with black magic marker. When printed, the photos have a particular blot on the right side, as ARAKI’s vision now permanently is, while the other side is clear. Each print is a one of a kind positive, as ARAKI gave the negatives when he could to the subjects themselves. The themes follow what would be expected from the artist, celebrities with Leica cameras like Gogo Yubari (well known for her role in Tarantino’s Kill Bill vol.1), nude housewives with spread legs, traditional shabari bondage, floral arrangements and sex toys coupled with Godzilla like Japanese toys and rubber lizards, but as well there are street scenes that hint of another infamous Japanese photographer of the same era, Daido Moriyama, but in full color seemingly falling where Araki’s eye falls. Whether that be an advertisement that’s shelf life is gone after a season, but captured here for eternity!
Other pieces in the show are large diptych like photos of portraits of women on the left side and another photo that is deteriorating on the left. These were shot with a modified point and shoot camera where Araki destroyed the optical mechanism to get the desired effect, a complete distortion and fog of an image. Again, to indicate his own optic nerve damage and deteriorating eyesight on one side.
These are no random photos, these are the photos of a photographer who is well aware of mortality, losing his wife after a long bout with cancer, his work has always celebrated both life and death, eros and thanatos. Araki himself just came out of treatment for prostate cancer, and is in remission. Coupled with facing the loss of sight in his eye, something any lesser photographer may give up all hope. “Death comes to us all, you know,” Araki ponders, “I don’t want to go there myself, but there is no getting around the fact that it’s coming. You just have to laugh it off!”
This is the Araki of today, one of the longest most diverse and most prolific photographic careers that ever has been, with over 400 photobooks and more to date and he isn’t stopping. Is the bad-boy of Japanese photography saying by living and continuing his work by any means that photography is not only a way of life, but may be life itself. For Araki, at least, we see the joy and determination in every shot he takes.
Photo and text Bil Brown