Nobuyoshi Araki, Hong Kong Kiss [HK9001], 1997.

HONG KONG - In the spring of 1997, a pre-handover Hong Kong found Nobuyoshi Araki roaming its muggy streets, eagerly snapping photograph after fervent photograph. It was the legendary photographer’s first time shooting abroad: prior to the trip, Araki had seldom left his country, adamantly sticking to Tokyo for his choice of photographic subject as well as working location. Araki’s initial reluctance to venture abroad soon gave way to unconcealed enthusiasm; he not only shot over 5,000 cuts throughout his stay but also kept a written journal on his adventures. The prolific photographer wrote on 18 April 1997:

“It’s been a while since I’ve been so excited […] I should tackle the outside world more. I should fight against it with my photography, just like a battlefield photographer.”

    – Araki, April 1997, Hong Kong

Nobuyoshi Araki, Hong Kong Kiss [HK0211], 1997.

Araki claims that Hong Kong seduced him, with its heat and humidity, its crowded buildings and neon lights, and even its heaving construction sites that were altering the local cityscape in preparation for the July handover. “I asked [a woman] to stand by the windowsill, and I could see a construction site from the window,” he wrote in his journal. “Construction works (kōji) and amorous affairs (jōji). They’re the same in terms of digging, right?”

Nobuyoshi Araki, Hong Kong Kiss [HK0421], 1997.

Recording everything from sparkling airplane sky-scapes to clammy wet markets, and from everyday street scenes to the bustling interiors of Chinese restaurants, Araki’s detailed documentation of his trip produced a unique archive of shots cataloguing a pivotal period in Hong Kong history. The infamously provocative photographer worked his magic, allowing the city to blossom under his unfailingly erotic touch. Whether it's a teeming table of dim sum or a lone fire hydrant, everything is haphazardly seductive and bizarrely enticing. This is street photography at its very best: the ordinary becomes arresting, the motionless comes alive, and passers-by are caught in transient moments imbued with both gravity and humour.

Nobuyoshi Araki, Hong Kong Kiss [HK0087], 1997.

Containing 52 selected images and coyly entitled Hong Kong Kiss, this defining series is photographically printed for the first time in platinum and palladium, enabling an archival permanence of over 500 years. Presented at Sotheby’s S|2 Hong Kong Gallery in the upcoming selling exhibition SHASHN! Japanese Photography Then/Now, Araki’s Hong Kong Kiss enables us to borrow the eccentric photographer’s vision and gaze upon fragments of Hong Kong that are quirky, uncanny and poignantly nostalgic. We will want to keep returning to these photographs – a sentiment that Araki shares with the city. He writes at the end of his trip:

“Hong Kong is like a mistress, like a lover. It’s somewhere you want to come back to after you return to your own country.”

    – Araki, April 1997, Hong Kong