Shi Nikki (Private Diary) for Robert Frank at the Bourse de Commerce
The series Shi Nikki (Private Diary) for Robert Frank by the Japanese photographer Nobuyoshi Araki is presented in Gallery 3 of the Bourse de Commerce.
Produced in 1993, three years after the death of his wife Yoko Aoki, this series brings together 101 black-and-white photographs. Whether in the austerity of the studio or the intimacy of the bedroom, the photographer captures his female models in fully frontal poses, explicit and uncompromising, as well as in erotic scenarios. These images are punctuated by photographs of Araki’s new daily life as a widower: still lifes, the streets and skies of Tokyo, the cat, Chiro, he adopted with his wife… Among them, the street photographs echo the work of Robert Frank (1924–2019), a pioneer of American photography, to whom Araki dedicated this series on the occasion of his exhibition at the Yokohama Museum. In this juxtaposition, Araki explores his intimate surroundings and questions both desire and loss.
Araki’s work is known for its direct relationship with reality, which he experiences, lives, and transforms into fiction, so to speak. This approach is very different from that of a reporter, whose supposedly “objective” eye merely observes and records. Araki is not far removed from the generation of Joan Didion, Tom Wolfe, or Norman Mailer, who were active in the United States in the 1960s and 1970s, and who moved very easily from subjective and personal reportage to fiction and forged what has become known as New Journalism. Araki perhaps goes further by taking his own individuality as his subject. Thus, this photographic mosaic points to the artist’s complex thinking, to the very core of his feelings, impulses, and reflections. Each image, whatever its subject, from the most banal to the most torrid, finds its place in the narrative of his experience of time.
“Shi-Nikki [Private Diary] for Robert Frank, also known as 101 Works for Robert Frank, is a collection of 101 photographs dedicated to the iconic author of The Americans, published by Robert Delpire in 1958. As programmatic as it is factual, with a number of images and a dedicatee, the series seems clear, perhaps overly so. Despite these tangible elements, a closer look reveals double meanings and questions. Let’s take a moment to consider the number 101. Often used in sales or marketing, 101 gives the feeling of a generous overflow, a promise of opulence. It is the idea of going beyond the limit, as if the work were opening up to something greater than itself, something unlimited even, with all its associated symbolism, such as infinity or perpetuation. The number 101 can also bring to mind the Bible’s Psalm 101 which is attributed to David and deals with loyalty and lies. The portfolio, made three years after the untimely death of his wife Yoko Aoki, carries this wound, this darkness, which marked a turning point in the artist’s work. Thus, after considering the context in which it was created and the terms of the title, we can ask ourselves about the symmetry of the number 101. A palindromic number, it is composed of two identical units separated by a zero, a possible metaphor for the void imposed by the disappearance of his beloved. Moreover, this symmetry could invoke a face-off with Robert Frank, both as an individual and as the author of The Americans…
Mathieu Humery, curator of the exhibition; Extract from the exhibition catalogue, Bourse de Commerce – Pinault Collection and delpire & co co-edition, Paris, 2021