Araki’s early photographs of his wife going about her day – naked after sleep, brushing her teeth, playing with their cat – established him as an art photographer. He later lovingly photographed her early death from cancer, then barely survived a year or more of intense withdrawal, when he photographed only clouds, as if, in them, he saw her soul.
Now, he works obsessively. He does prestigious arty stuff, but also ‘naked housewives’ for his own ‘dirty’ books. He makes no distinction between art and porn, and he’s become modern Japan’s sexual liberator. As Björk says of his work, it’s not what he does, it’s how he does it that matters. Arakimentari shows him at work, delighting in the female form. He’s affectionate, playful, likeable, certainly fixated, and somehow unknowable – we rarely see the eyes behind his many pairs of novelty sunglasses.
Even so, he’s not at all creepy. But does he herald a freer, personal sexuality, or is he a run-of-the-mill pornographer? Many of his images are by nature transient and throwaway, but Arakimentari, swept along by Araki’s energy, never stays with them long enough for us to decide. Still, it’s an intriguing ride.