‘Nobuyoshi Araki: Theater of Love’

by C.B. Liddell

Taka Ishii Gallery Photography/Film

Closes March 26

One of the tricks of the trade that legendary lensman Nobuyoshi Araki is a master at taking photos when people least expect it, and often without their knowledge. I have personal experience of this as Araki once took my picture while I was interviewing him at his favorite Kabukicho snack bar, and I didn’t even know it till months later when an ex-student informed me that he had seen me in “Tokyo Bondage,” one of the maestro’s more than 350 published photo books.

The exhibition now on at the newly opened Taka Ishii Gallery Photography venue in Roppongi goes one better than this as it consists of photos that even Araki didn’t know he had taken — at least until recently!

“I found a cabinet-size box labeled ‘Theater of Love,’ ” the photographer tells the story. “I opened it to find about 150 prints. They’re from around 1965. Back then I used to click away with my Olympus Pen F, making these patchy prints using thermal development, on purpose.”

Snapped only a couple of years after he graduated from a photography course at Chiba University’s Faculty of Engineering, the grainy monochrome textures of the postcard-size prints emphasize the nostalgia of a period that now seems poignantly far away. They also capture the warmth and intimacy of Araki’s all-embracing eye, which is just as likely to focus on a Buddhist statue or an odd-looking light fixture as a couple making love or a porn actress taking a break.

Taka Ishii Gallery Photography/Film is a 1-min. walk from Roppongi Station (Hibiya and Oedo lines); open Tue.-Sat. 12 p.m.-7 p.m., closed Sun., Mon.; admission free. For information, visit www.takaishiigallery.com/en/exhibitions/2011/araki_love.