Tag Archives: Araki

Today’s photos are tomorrow’s nostalgia

As mentioned in recent posts, I was much struck by Eric Kim’s thoughts on Araki’s philosophy of photographing his everyday life, and this remains the case. The concept of memento mori has further been in my thoughts  because of two events which have happened recently. The first was listening to the Radio 4 programme on Leonard Cohen and his muse, Marianne. It was a wonderfully evocative piece, full of emotion, poetry and singing and was a joy to hear. Cohen and Marianne talked separately about the time they spent together and how various of Cohen’s songs recalled specific moments. These songs, which were made with great emotion at the time, now have a nostalgic resonance both for the two protagonists, but also for those of us who marked various points in our own lives while listening to them. Sadly, since the programme was recorded, Marianne has died, so all that is left is memories now.

The second was that my father last week gave me my mother’s camera, saying he would never use it again. (My mother died in 2011). To be fair, he wasn’t much of a photographer anyway, and Mum used to take all the family photos. Laterally, this was done using an Olympus Speedrite 110, which I assume she bought around 1992, when they first went on the market.


Alongside the camera, he gave me her accessories: a fine Velbon metal tripod (which I never saw her use), a remote control system (ditto), some macro lenses and various unused and exposed films, including at least one which has been used but has not been processed. I will be sending this one in for processing along with my own photographs taken on the camera, and am keen to see what is on it.

Together, these various small events have made me realise that my own photography must be about the people and ideas I will want to recall in the future. Holidays and parties are all very well, but the images that are likely to bring back significant memories are the everyday moments of interaction among family members and friends. The bits in between the set piece events, as it were. I wish to explore that avenue in detail while working through this module. And now I come to think of it, the reasoning behind my decision on what to photograph for Assignment 1 falls into this category, but I will explain that more in the assignment itself.





Three books

Three photo books have been delivered by the postie in the last week. (thank you, AbeBooks and the Book Depository. They are all on portraits but are very different and each is inspiring in its own way.

The first is Gregory Heisler’s 50 portraits: stories and techniques from a photographer’s photographer. This is a sumptuous hardback, which looks at how he made fifty images of famous people. The styles of the images vary hugely and for each one, he has described the back ground to the shoot and the process of how he decided on the technique for the final image. It is a fascinating read and will be on my bedside table for the next few weeks.

Heisler 50 portraits

The second is Dan Winters’ Road to Seeing. It is quite similar in subject to Heisler’s and describes how he went about choosing subjects, locations and settings for his images. The book is a joy to hold – beautifully bound and a solid 2″ thick. Both of these will be useful source books for ideas on portraits for this module.

Dan Winters

Finally, I managed to get a copy of Nobuyoshi Araki’s Self : Life : Death. Araki is a prolific Japanese photographer who mostly produces his images from the his local environment. He is known for his sexual images, which often feature young girls in bondage situations, but his oeuvre  is in fact much wider and covers family and macro photography too. His work is a wonderful (and slightly deranged) mishmash of different genres, and the book is inspirational in a bizarre, almost psychedelic way. What particularly appeals to me are his colour images, which have a delicacy, despite their often difficult subject matter. As a general rule, I am not keen to support anything promoting female bondage, but his subjects don’t appear to be suffering in any way, and tend to have a remote, uninterested look on their faces. The colours are what attracts me most – they are deep and vibrant and have a tonality that we do not normally use in the West.

Araki 3

All three of these are full of different ways of taking portraits, and I am looking forward to thumbing through them to see how I can apply some of their ideas to my own work.


First thoughts on assignment 1

At this moment, I do not have any specific ideas for my first assignment, which asks us to take five portraits of strangers. Rather than waiting for inspiration to strike, I’ve been doing some reading to see whether I can build an idea up from the bottom, instead of starting with the subject and working downwards. Hopefully, these ramblings will crystallise some thoughts that I have been considering into proper ideas.

At the general research level, Bate’s chapter on the portrait is fascinating, with its discussion of the elements of the portrait, how to read them and how we interpret them on a personal level. Clearly, how I set compose the images and pose the subjects is important. Points to consider are:

  • genre of portrait
  • reflect sitter’s personality or not?
  • clothing
  • background
  • outsider/insider

Alongside this, I read Eric Kim’s short explanation of 12 things (actually it is 11) that motivate the great Japanese photographer Akiri, and a couple of them really struck a chord. Two that keep coming back to me are that today’s images are the history of tomorrow and make it personal, i.e. it should have meaning and to matter to me. Bearing in mind my recent forays through my family archive, I’ve become very aware that many of the photographs from the 1960s onwards are very much snapshots, and poor quality ones at that. Images were captured on the fly, without much consideration of their archival value, and most were very situational, and were taken either at events or on holidays. Quality only started to improve again in the 1990s when digital cameras began to appear , which allowed people much more discretion about the images they chose to keep. I suspect that most probably in this century family archives will once again  begin to feature more portraits for this reason, but also because we are now accustomed to the selfie and the very casual portrait. Below is an example of what I mean; an image of my step-daughter in the garden, which was taken very fast and without her expecting it. Preparation was zero, but it is clearly a portrait, and also clearly shows something of her personality. I suppose the point I am coming to on this is that a good portrait does not necessarily involve studios and hours of preparation, but it does need engagement between the photographer and sitter.


Edited to add:

After a night’s rest, I think a way forward has been found. To all intents and purposes, my exercise on typologies was a fulfilment of the assignment brief, being local and using people I had never met before. The images were all full length though, and I would like to try some more close-up portraits. I feel much more comfortable out on the street rather than taking formal portraits in a studio, and also have more confidence in the role of Photographer Tourist, rather than Portrait Photographer.

I have therefore decided that I will use a trip to the Edinburgh Fringe next week to make my photographs. My plan is to engage people who are handing out flyers for their shows, as they will be happy to talk, and should be positive about the idea of having a close-up portrait taken. I came across a post about a 100 Strangers project which appeals to me, and would like to aim for something similar, but with some information about the subjects and why they are at the Fringe. I will write separately about why I have chosen this particular group as subjects.


Bate, D. (2009) Photography: the key concepts. Bloomsbury.