Nan Goldin’s first provocative photo-series, The Ballad of Sexual Dependency, unleashed obsessive desire and pathos with such ferocity that many were stunned. The tragic and beautiful Ballad finds a life-affirming companion in Tokyo Love. Tokyo Love began in the spring of 1994 as a collaboration between Goldin and Japanese photographer Nobuyoshi Araki. Although worlds apart, they were doing similar things, with similar people. In this book they come together. Tokyo Love is arranged so we see Goldin’s and Araki’s photographs indiscriminately.
One common thread between Goldin and Araki is their love for the people they photograph. Araki’s portraits are straight-on, studio-style photography. His subjects are not all beautiful, some are shown with acne and a combination of cockiness and teenage awkwardness. They love to model for him, to smoke and to camp it up. Goldin treats her subjects with a striking familiarity. These teenage victims of punkkitsch confabulation are photographed candidly in transient hotels, at parties and in public spaces. Her subjects are almost ambivalent to her lens, caught in acts of defiant sexuality and unself-conscious bruiting. These kids are tough and compulsive, part of Goldin’s self-described “tribe.”
Tokyo Love is a book dedicated to the principle of “joy in living.” Though they are surrounded by friends dying of AIDS-related illnesses, addiction, suicide, the people in these photographs persevere. Their enjoyment in life is not sacrificed. Tokyo Love is a breather, a party. T. M.