(35) An Apple is not an Apple



“It makes me want to look at those photographs!” said George, referring to A Conversation of Five Photographs. By this time, they had gone through some length of the disc and Mr. Bento paused it for a break. Some got up to stretch their legs, some went to the washroom and others went into the kitchen to fetch more beverages.

“It sounds like there’s a variety of genres in those five works: art, documentary, performance, portrait, self-portrait, alternative…yes, it would be nice if we have a chance to see the pictures.” Bill added. Mr. Bento shrugged his shoulders, turned to his wife with inquiring eyes, “Maybe you’ve seen them?” Now that everyone gathered back in the room, Mr. Bento reached out for the remote to resume the audio.

Woman: “And a young Irish lady once commented that this black and white photograph by Araki is less offensive. She probably didn’t know Araki! All she saw was an apple, sliced vertically into half. The apple is so succulent, revealing ovary, seeds and calyx, a lovely offspring after pollination. I suspect Araki had sprayed some water to achieve this wet droplets effect … the symbolic association is alarmingly erotic.”

Man: “And the close-up renders it more aesthetic. Araki takes pictures everyday, he said he wrote diaries with them. In one of his ‘picture diaries’ we saw him shooting extreme close-ups of women’s vaginas using ring flash. Direct and brutal, he challenges the notion of obscenity, and dares to go beyond limit. Yes, he doesn’t care to be coined a porn, erotic or art photographer, just call him whatever you like and he will still shake your hand, and burst out into his habitual boisterous laughter. He said he needed to feel alive by taking pictures, like eating and sleeping and having sex everyday.”

Woman: “His lewd attitude covering up his more solemn side. It’s a disguise before death and how he combats it. He did it brilliantly through photography. After his wife died in 1990 he produced two photo series: From Close-range and Skyscapes, forming the book Laments. They are the most moving memorial pictures I’ve ever seen. This black hole of loss he tried to fill with memories of tender years he shared with Yoko, looking at different skies, drying clothes in the verandah and watching their cat playing with Araki’s toys…all reenacted with silent and mournful gazes.”

Man: “The joy and pain in life. Up to now he’s still living acutely between both worlds through his photography. A few years after Yoko’s death Nan Goldin visited him and together they collaborated on the Tokyo Love project. Though both are known for exploring and depicting sexuality in their work, they appeared much more reserved and restrained in dealing with the subject matter, perhaps out of fear, or respect for each other’s name. That also leads me think further on portrait photography, what is a portrait? Is it merely likeness, or technical excellence? What is in a portrait, are there good and bad portraits? Is there a formula for taking good portraits? Does a successful portrait need to be liked by both photographer and the one being photographed?  

Woman: “The tension becomes especially strong when one photographer shooting the portrait of another - on the one hand the shooter has to give direction, to set the scene, and on the other hand, the sitter inevitably heightens her awareness, hanging between reveal and conceal, the hesitation makes it all the more awkward. They have to arrive at a certain comfortable meeting point - merging the photographer’s conception of the sitter, and the way the sitter wants to be represented. Annie Leibovitz talked about her experience in photographing Sally Mann, her state of mind and uneasiness in the whole process. She needed more strength and courage to tackle this session than any of her previous sittings of shooting celebrities.”

Man: “By shooting intimate family life Sally Mann got famous, and scrutinized at the same time. It was around 92, the decade when artists began proactively exploring the medium of photography as an art form. Sally Mann’s pictures touch not only the private life of a family, not just about her children growing up, but also look into the interior nature of adolescence, identity and sexuality, which was considered controversial and even abusive by many at that time.”

At this instant Yoji hand-gestured Mr. Bento to stop the disc and said, “But during that time the ones being photographed did not consider being exploited, until they were being told so. The matter, though pure and in good intention, became complicated. Most of the women Araki photographed came to him willingly, they were proud to show off their bodies, as best souvenirs to themselves. They felt honoured and wanted to be in a piece of Araki’s history. This is true until the #METOO movement, some began to wonder whether he was really their saviour, or they were being his preys.” The sky suddenly grew dark. Grey clouds gathered and hung over the city like a gigantic canopy. Lightning unleashed a scream of silver snakes across the sky, followed by roaring thunders. A rainstorm was rolling in.