Jesse’s Book Review – Shamanatsu 2011 by Araki
Jesse Freeman kicks off the new year with a new book review. Come and read this wonderfully composed piece. Some of this may be considered NSFW, just so you know.

Shamanatsu 2011 is a photo book by Nobuyoshi Araki published by Rathole. A major characteristic of all great artists is that they all are their own toughest critics. From the impressionists who routinely punched holes in their canvases to film directors like Stanley Kubrick who once did a single take 148 times. Some would argue the merits of this; however the point is that most great artists share this common characteristic. Shamanatsu 2011 is the perfect example of this in the Araki oeuvre. Now Araki from his erratic compositions and seemingly random shots wouldn’t strike anybody of possessing this quality, but this then becomes the point with Shamanatsu 2011.

This book is composed of essentially two distinct series of work: one shot with a Leica composed of studio portraits of random people and few others and one shot with a Fuji 6X7 more on Tokyo life in general. All of which are shot in black and white. The first series all of the distinct characteristic of being torn and later taped together for this book. Because there is no introduction or afterward one can only speculate. I highly doubt he would of done this for aesthetic reasons, although strangely when taped together and presented here it comes off surprisingly well for reasons I will delve into a little later.

The second series should be more familiar to anyone familiar with Araki’s art. There are shots of the sky, dolls, flowers, toys, Tokyo streets (this one was mostly shot in Shinagawa), buildings, and of course beautiful nudes with his current girlfriend included. For this section his earlier work is more striking to me, though I say this with the complete understanding that in his old age getting around can’t be all the easy.  Down the line I intend to review the Araki books that focus on each of these topics more specifically, so I won’t get into the reasons and symbols for these topics here. Instead, I will focus on his portraits since as far as I know this is the only time they have been done like this.

First of all the torn portraits for aesthetic reasons to me perfectly match Araki’s sensibilities. In that I could actually see him tearing apart these photographs and calling them trash, then on a later date in a better mood finding these photos taped up and presented to him by an assistant and liking them. Though for what it is worth, more technical photographers would have done the same as a lot of the shots are out of focus, though this wouldn’t really be a real reason with an artist like Araki, as this  haphazard nature would seem to embody everything Araki is. Of course the entire process could be different I am only speculating based off the few occasions that I have met him at his private exhibitions and made here a judgment on what is a really complex character. What I am certain of is the nature these photos took on after having been torn. The subjects in these portraits range from couples and families to friends and of course single portraits. The people seem to come from all walks of life each with their own unique expressions, uniforms, or props. This thin white line is the only constant in these photos, often literally tearing apart couples, families, friends, and even one’s own self.
This thought of a torn self or torn relationships represent a level of isolation that seems to be prevalent in the Japanese psyche. Some of the most praised examples of Japanese literature exemplify this perfectly from Natsume Soseki’s Kokoro  detailing a friendship that is torn apart and ends in tragedy, to Dazai Osamu’s Ningen Shikaku that details an individual’s torn self that leads to suicide, or to Yukio Mishima who literally tore himself apart committing seppuku. Not stopping there the most highly regarded directors dealt with the same theme’s rather it be Ozu Yasujiro’s preoccupation with the dissolution of the Japanese family or the characters of Oshima Nagisa who were always at odds with themselves. These single white lines in these portraits embody this sentiment perfectly falling in line with all the greats of each medium.

It is really an original book by a photographer who has over 350 photo books published. Only 700 editions of this book have been made but at the moment can still be purchased modestly from most sites.  It is by no means his best book, yet it is unique and has a charm its own. A reissue of A Sentimental Journey would more often than not be the one book to purchase and in my case review, which I may actually have the audacity to do, although I remain a bit torn about it.

Jesse Freeman is a friend, photographer and movie buff. He has a great knowledge of photography books and classic cinema. He can also be relied upon for decent music recommendations.
You can more of his work and passions at the following places:

Many thanks Jesse, looking forward to more.