Araki does fetish like no one else. He is the cantankerous ripper of all that is taken for granted and has worked and blended both ends of the low-brow/high-art spectrum to a degree even Warhol never touched. He brought the explicitly pornographic into the arena of art culture. One might imagine that before Puck went out to frighten young girls, spoil milk, and mislead travelers at night, he would have consulted Araki, maybe even made him complicit in his rounds, possibly even, Araki is Tokyo’s Puck.
In Araki’s latest uptown exhibition, A Film, he presents an installation of about five hundred medium format color positives encased between two thin pieces of glass. All of the images are taken in Tokyo, and in a sense, A Film can be read as Araki’s portrait of Tokyo, populated as one might imagine by naked women, twisting streets, budding flowers, towering cityscapes, and a few still lives with lizards. For someone like Araki, who is known to shoot everything all the time in the studio and out—like Winogrand or Atget combined with Avedon and Arbus—putting together a wall of unused film is probably not a difficult task. Still the resulting wall is mesmerizing despite the fact that few of the images are ‘great’. A photographer might walk away from Araki’s A Film with a whole new appreciation for the inevitable throw away shots on every roll. Because it’s a rule of thumb that one great image can command a wall just as well as five hundred weak ones can make a wall.
Apart from the sensationalism of seeing so many beautiful color positives suspended in glass, A Film touches on more subtle issues such as the transformation of film into a sculptural form. He’s also violated a golden rule of photographers which is to sell prints, or in the digital, era image use rights, but never negatives. Yet he’s done it in a sly manner by repositioning his negatives as means to an end, rather than as an end in themselves. If A Film really was a film its catch phrase might be, ‘Everything is beautiful, nothing gets wasted, anything can be sold’.
Images: Details from A Film. Courtesy Yoshii Gallery.