「無論在何時何地，他都會拿著相機拍照，吃飯的時候、聊天的時候、散步的時候。」認識了荒木経惟二十多年，SHOP Taka Ishii Gallery的創辦人和展覽《荒木経惟：花曲》的策展人石井孝之說。「荒木很多作品都以花卉作為主題，他喜歡以花來比喻女性，所以今次展出的作品也是他經常探討的主題。」對花感興趣，也許來自荒木的童年經歷。他成長的地方旁有一所供奉著吉原青樓女子亡靈的淨閑寺，他每次經過都會看到墓地上的獻花；也因為在他妻子陽子去世前，看護著她的都是花，她走後花仍在綻放，荒木便覺得花是一種「生的傳達」，讓人感悟生死，而攝影能永遠記錄這種美麗。
展覽場地的一邊，整幅牆都是艷麗盛開卻又顯露著自身腐爛的花卉牆紙，作品是來自1997年的攝影系列《花曲》，遙相呼應對女性的想像。牆紙上放著他1991年《空景・近景》的作品，天空蒼涼的景緻和枯萎的花朵，產生強烈又微妙的對比。「展覽中，我最喜歡這系列，這深色調的黑白照片，是荒木在他妻子去世後所拍攝的個人系列，當中能看到一些與他妻子的回憶相關的物品，如凋謝的花朵 。」 石井說。以黑白攝影來記錄，更能顯出花朵的凋零與孤寂，流露出荒木失去深愛的人的悲傷心情。荒木曾於一次採訪說：「我愛我的妻子，這些痕跡留在我的感覺和我的身體裡，這些痕跡在照片中得以保留。」
展覽場地的中間，有一張長長的桌子，放著印上了荒木作品的衣服。「當我在香港尋找畫廊的選址時，我想，不要在中環，要找一個不一樣的地方。畫廊的風格也不如一般的畫廊，它更像一間商店。」石井說。藝術不一定是高不可攀的， 也可以是日常的用品、穿著。荒木拍攝過超過5000張花卉照片，生命短促的花卉因攝影而重生，荒木把它們印在衣服上又是另一種的演繹。石井先生穿起SOPH.的「NOBUYOSHI ARAKI x uniform experiment」的印花恤衫，看來不會像夏威夷恤般花俏，接近死亡前的花看來更有生命力，藏著荒木経惟對花卉、女性、攝影和生命的一份執著與迷戀。
“Flowers become more enriched with life as they approach their death.
The most beautiful moment is just before they perish.
When coming close to them, one is enraptured with sexual spirituality and I can hear the Flower Rondeau.”
“He is seen holding a camera all the time no matter where he is, whether he is eating, talking, or taking a stroll,” says Takayuki Ishii, the founder of SHOP Taka Ishii Gallery and the curator of the Flower Rondeau by Nobuyoshi Araki exhibition. Ishii has known Nobuyoshi Araki for over twenty years, “Many of Araki’s photography is themed around flowers. He likes to use flowers as a metaphor for women, therefore, we are also showcasing his photography on this recurring theme.” His interest in flowers perhaps stems from his childhood memory. Near the place where he grew up is Jyokanji temple, the Buddhist temple with a cemetery where spirits of courtesans of the Edo period were enshrined. Every time he passed by, he would notice the flowers left on the graves by the mourners. When his wife Yoko Aoki passed away, what kept her company all the time was also flowers, which stayed blossoming even after she was gone. Araki then started to have a feeling that flower is a “message of life itself” for people to feel the weight of life. He wanted to use photography to document this kind of beauty.
On the other side of the exhibition space is a whole wall completely covered with wallpaper featuring flowers that appear to be fully blooming, but under a closer look, these blossoms also show some underlying signs of decay. Taken from the series Flower Rondeau (1997), these floral pictures serve as his implicit imagination towards women. What’s also presented on the wall is the series From Close-range (1991), on which the ruined sky, landscape, and wilting flowers have created a subtle contrast. “I like this series the most in the exhibition. These stark grayscale pictures were taken after the death of his wife. Objects related to the memory of Yoko are featured, such as wilting flowers.” Ishii said the monochromic documentation can emphasize the solitude of flowers, and, in turn, reflect Araki’s intense sorrow of losing someone he deeply cherished. Araki once said in an interview, “I loved my wife, and traces of this remain in my feelings and my body, traces that survive in the photos.”
Rare vintage books and editions will also be available for viewing in the exhibition, including Naked Face and Sentimental Journey, which was published in 1971 as a documentation of the couple’s honeymoon from a very intimate perspective. Ishii said, “The Sentimental Journey/Winter Journey series is the most captivating one. His delicate sensitivity and masterful craftsmanship have made these sentimental works a manifestation of his incredible love, an art that lives beyond life and death.” This could be a ballad of love or a requiem of love, Nobuyoshi Araki once said.
Sitting in the middle of the exhibition space is a long table, which displays clothes that are printed with Araki’s works. “When I was looking for a space for our exhibitions in Hong Kong, I intentionally tried to avoid Central and looked for something different. The gallery is not a typical one, it looks more like a shop in a way,” said Ishii. Art should not be pretentious and should be portrayed as a day-to-day necessity. Araki has made over 5000 flower photographs through which these flowers are reborn over and over again. Now the reprints of them on shirts have become a new representation. Ishii was wearing the “NOBUYOSHI ARAKI x uniform experiment” print shirt by SOPH. More subtle than a Hawaiian shirt, the flowers featured portray the vitality of flowers before they perish. What is actually presented is Araki’s insistence and obsession with flowers, female, photography, and life itself.