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March 2009, Nobuyoshi Araki @ Anton Kern Gallery

March 2009, Nobuyoshi Araki @ Anton Kern Gallery
Some Thoughts on Nobuyoshi Araki at Anton Kern Gallery
 
 
When I first saw the John Cassavetes film Shadows I watched it immediately after seeing a string of other, more recent Cassavetes fare: "A Woman Under the Influence", "Faces", "Husbands" and "The Killing of a Chinese Bookie". I had no idea what would transpire, what to expect from "Shadows"; however, I had, from watching the other films above mentioned, a certain realm of expectations. Those expectations were, to only a small degree, met. "Shadows" is, for me, somewhat of a black sheep of Cassavetes pictures, and not in an exclusionary way. For me, "Shadows" is to a large extent more of a direct plug-in to John Cassavetes' methods and inquiries, however amorphous some of these come across, compared to the other works. "Shadows" finds Cassavetes trying ideas out, making a few mistakes here and there, even though the film accomplishes what it initially sets out to do, which is to tell a story utilizing, for lack of a better term, something like a variable-perspective/focus narrative. 
 
What I took from "Shadows" on a visual level was the bold, hand-held shooting style that particular picture is known for. The black-and-white stock the film was shot with evokes a relatively high-contrast, somewhat grainy look with astoundingly rich blacks that I personally took with me and which, despite the often engaging (albeit somewhat shifting) narrative, still have nestled within me to this day, years and years later. I've not watched it since then, and now, writing this down, I am understandably intrigued and curious once again. Be that as it may, my memories of that experience of watching "Shadows" (on the big-screen, no less) are memories of being confronted by stark, raw and beautiful black-and-white images, a "look" and "feel" from another era (specifically the 1950s through the early 1960s, like in LIFE magazine and, later, in an evocation of that look, "Good Night, and Good Luck"), an era with comparatively "rudimentary" tools based on precision mechanics and chemistry instead of circuit-boards and ones and zeros. What I'm trying to get at here is that, like most individuals, I initially related to the visual palette of "Shadows" (and many of the b/w films I watched growing up) as a time capsule. But it is also so much more. Black-and-white imagery is one-more-step distanced from my perceptions of the world around me; therefore, it inserts a space, or a span, rather, possibly a gap, into my comprehension. Because of this gap, my imagination takes over a little bit, and inserts emotions and fantasies. The look, ultimately, becomes, for me in this regard, a distinctly emotional experience. On the other side, color photographic representation, with its noticeably clearer adeptness at representation, comparatively falls flat, at least in the realm of evoking emotion.  
 
So it is with little surprise that upon entering Anton Kern Gallery and being met with a welter of Araki's black-and-white imagery from the 1960s, hundreds of images lined up across the vast space, I immediately slipped into this gap mentioned above. I could not help it. The sheer starkness of the imagery, the vast spans in each photograph of bottomless black with human faces popping out, day-to-day human existence represented in monochrome, I felt myself swooning.  
 
Nobuyoshi Araki is better known for his erotic photography, spanning from the 1970s through the present. I won't comment on that particular work here, since much of what I might offer has already been said many times over. What I will say is that the bulk of the work at Anton Kern Gallery is comparatively unknown. The "Ginza" series was shot entirely in a Tokyo shopping district, on the street, and the "Subway" series was shot entirely on a Tokyo subway.  
 
I am at a loss for words and now feverishly writing in order to find out, once again, why this work is doing what it's doing to me. Like I stated above I'm swooning. I've been back to Anton Kern Gallery three times in the past week, and I'm going to be returning. These black-and-white images of individuals, each caught off-guard, unawares (at least it looks that way) as the camera shutter went off are, of course, frozen moments in time but there is also that gap between representation and reality where much of my emotional perception crowds out rational thought. I stood for long amounts of time, gazing at these faces, faces cut in half by Araki's framing, hands, glasses, suits, smiles, frowns and every other thing under the sun.  
 
In addition to the above observations, I have a certain amount of envy for Nobuyoshi Araki. In my time as a filmmaker and photographer (which I no longer practice), I tended to avoid people as subjects. There are many reasons for this, none of which will find purchase in this article. Ultimately, though, it feels like I abandoned a fertile chance to explore this potentially scalding and rewarding venture. As I stood in Anton Kern Gallery, this fleeting chance missed bore down on me, adding to the confusing and melancholy experience this was turning into. I felt like I was at a crossroads. But at least there are roads. Choices. These are in front of me, not behind. It's not entirely comfortable, but that, ultimately, to coin an old cheesy saying, is the purpose of art, is it not? The lie that tells the truth? 
 
I would like to thank the individuals at Anton Kern Gallery for producing this show of Araki's work. I'll be back, quite possibly more than once.

 

 

whitehot gallery images, click a thumbnail.
       

Hans Michaud


Hans Michaud is a freelance journalist in New York.
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