TO THE PAST focuses on his auto-dated photo diary black and white photographs, spanning monumentally from Araki’s adoption of the process in 1979, up until the day of the great Japanese earthquake in March, 2011. Ordered ‘chronologically,’ Araki’s masterful editing defines a clear narrative of passing time and life over 32 years. The edit, often with the sublime sitting next to the seemingly mundane gives further charge to all images both individually and as a whole, and each can be viewed as a link between moments previous and following. TO THE PAST, viewed alongside Araki’s many other books can be seen, paradoxically in light of its chronological fraudulence, as an exceedingly open and frank dialogue about universal truths—joy, and sadness, life and, ultimately, death. While an inherent honesty and nostalgia are hallmarks of much of Araki’s previous work, the level of reflection and openness on display in TO THE PAST can clearly be read as the tenderising influence of age, illness, and experience.
The narrative arc of TO THE PAST begins during Araki’s early forties. On a SONY television, we see projected the ruins of Hiroshima—a post-war mash-up with both ‘new’ and ‘old’ Japans. Tender images of his wife Yoko, his contemporaries and friends are ballasted by the devastating frankness of Yoko’s death—a heartrending and sentimentally charged image of him holding her hand in hospital sears emotionally. Throughout, familiar themes emerge—Araki’s beloved cat Chiro, scenes of rope bondage, and his boundless sexual appetite. Towards the end of the book, we observe Araki undergoing treatment for his own fight with cancer, before finally ending on two images taken on the day of the earthquake—the negatives distressed and scratched as a traumatic reaction. With reference to the first atomic disaster near the beginning, and the second at the end TO THE PAST is an edition defined by uncertainty and remains open-ended both back and forth. To highlight this sense of linear control, the title of the book gives insight to Araki’s clever manipulations as he pulls the viewer backwards to the past whilst maintaining perpetual motion forward.