Ratio; Nobuyoshi Araki and The Art of Polarnography

By Anoushka Pinto

Shocking as his work may be, internationally-acclaimed Japanese photographer and contemporary artist Nobuyoshi Araki is held in high regard for transcending the conventional through his oeuvre. An artistic legend and prolific creator, Araki is an idiosyncratic figure who emerged from a country that is deemed to be particularly orthodox and conservative.

From one of the most controversial artists in the world comes the latest astounding collection: Polarnography. Published in April 2019, it is a compilation of shots reminiscent of 70s Polaroids. They juxtapose naked Japanese women bound in ropes using the Kinbaku technique with expanses of the sky. Kinbaku is an ancient Japanese erotic binding technique involving intricate designs and complex knots.

Art of Polarnography

Polarnography book cover


With over a thousand photographs and five-hundred books to his name, Araki was first noted for his collection Sentimental Journey which documented significant chapters of his married life. The photo-book chronicled mundane and intimate moments with his wife, from their honeymoon to her last breath, and his lonesome life after.


The polarizing artist has built a large fan-base spanning over 50 years of his career, with women across Japan yearning to be the subjects of his photography. His works settle somewhere between art and pornography wherein he portrays women in their most vulnerable state as a way of normalising their nudity and sexual orientation.

Most of the models photographed in his shots are adorned in traditional Japanese clothing, while still baring themselves to the world. Subjectivity is at the core of his artistry, the photographs manifesting his vision. He believes art is more subjective when it’s personal.


A set of hundred colour photographs, meticulously enclosed within a small box (9 X 11.5 cm) inside a large scarlet red frame (30 X 38 cm), Polarnography is a consummate blend of Polaroid art and erotica. It goes beyond mere pornography to centralize sensuality and intimacy.

The women in the photographs are portrayed in a salacious yet aesthetic light – each in a risqué position, with their legs spread apart and faces bearing fierce, resistant and titillating expressions. Some photographs also feature sex toys, books, and plastic animal figurines that make the subject stand out.


Araki attempts to portray the normalcy in his life through this new collection. It includes images of the morning sky and the sunset that he managed to expertly capture through taxi windows. Each picture has been hand-picked by Araki, himself, in a way that they complement each other perfectly in shape and colour to form a hundred different combinations.


To the common folk, his work could be interpreted as perverse or misogynistic, but Araki is one of the most unique, brilliant and infamous photographers to ever exist. He never strays away from encapsulating his hometown of Tokyo within his photography, bringing a sense of nostalgia with it. The maverick heavily relates his native city with the female body as a means of paying homage to the city that has been his haven since he was a young boy, while feeding his compulsive desire to photograph his ideal subjects – women.

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