Nobuyoshi Araki’s Tokyo Lucky Hole, selected by Barry W. Hughes

Photos courtesy of Taschen, spreads courtesy of Barry W. Hughes

Artist: Nobuyoshi Araki
Title: Tokyo Lucky Hole
Publisher: Taschen
Year: 2005

When I first encountered Nobuyoshi Araki’s Tokyo Lucky Hole, my understanding of contemporary photography shifted. I use the word ‘encounter’ because one does not just read or view such a book; it is far more profound than that. If anything, it is the proverbial punch in the eye. Published by Taschen in 2005, this meaty block of a book, much like Araki himself, is a legend.

Until this point I was immersed in the colour photography of Fraser, Tillmans, Shore, Eggleston, Meyerowitz and those that mimicked or continued that aesthetic and philosophy. Their kaleidoscopic endeavours in uncovering the extraordinary in the ordinary, their Joycean pondering in colour seemed revolutionary and breathed new life into the banality of modern living. But along came Araki, with all his characteristic charm and unwavering acceptance of the gutter-glory of the big city.

With what is the last word on Tokyo’s pleasure district, Araki pieces together hundreds of pornographic monochrome snapshots from the 1980s, infused with moments of humour, precise poeticism and interjections of questioning scenes. Prostitutes and their pleasure-seeking salary man clients pose for the photographer and his ejaculating flash. They lie or squat while surrounded by mirrored walls, bed sheets, shower water and alcoholic antics. On each visit eyes widen, the pulse fastens and arousal heightens; this is photography as an illicit indulgence and it feels good. With each page too, still more is at hand to provoke through the imagined din of laughter and screams, howls and groans.

The milk-skinned orgies and live sex shows that invade ones brain give way to peaceful pin-up style posturing from the prostitutes in private rooms, and deep within the book there are slow blow-jobs and cocaine fuelled parties as though the bacchanalia will never end and the heaving night is eternal. Tokyo Lucky Hole is a compendium of the grotesque in all it’s unfettered, unashamed and gloriously troublesome deviancy.

The bizarre little figure that Araki cuts, silent yet ever-present in and out of shot, is the ultimate guide with blacked-out eyes and satanic moustache. His Hades-like tour of the damned leads us past cages and bondage, sliding Nuru sirens and suspended sylphs. Karaoke singers with perfected quiffs look longingly into the lens, while outside the cars crawl by on cold unfeeling streets, overlooked by grey towers that belie the bleak servitude of respectability. Tokyo Lucky Hole may appear to be hell for many, but if one were to walk through such a place, there would be no better guide and no better map.