Hirakawa, Noritoshi

Innocence Incarnate
by Dominique Nahas  

Photographer Noritoshi Hirakawa, whose new works are on view at Deitch Projects in SoHo, has a way with young women. Specifically, with Shannon, Iris and Rika, three lasses whom he photographed on the crowded streets of New York, Lisbon and Tokyo, respectively. The works in this series, titled "The Reason of Life," are diptych cibachromes. In one half, a black-and-white documentary pic gives us the dead-pan set up: an attractive young woman wearing a skirt stands in a public space, staring defiantly out at the viewer, while passersby continue on their way in a blur, oblivious to what's going on. The woman holds a shutter-release bulb in her hand, the cord lasciviously snaking down to the ground at her feet. It's connected to a camera placed on its back between her legs. The Peeping Tom lens is obviously aimed directly up at her crotch.

The diptych's color half delivers the undercover goods: white calves, flanks and a delicious sliver of white pantie framed by swirls of miniskirt. Hirakawa creates a male fantasy come true: willing women documenting their private parts for us, as a tacit acknowledgment if not a celebration of the intersection of secret male and female desires.

Art-world observers will remember that Hirakawa's last show at Deitch Projects also indulged his underwear fetish. Women were asked to take off their panties and hang them on a chandelier made from safety pins.

In another series of photo works entitled "S," Hirakawa has photographed ten sites of famous suicides in Switzerland. These works allow us to mix in our minds the inexorable connection between context and content in what would otherwise be formally expressive, but not extraordinary, artworks. Upon discovering that each image records the site of a suicide, they assume the gravity of a post-mortem documentary photograph. The mind is cast adrift, as the otherwise romantic connotations of swirling water patterns take on a grisly and foreboding aftertaste.

In his third series, "Révélation de Printemps," the artist's Lolita-like girlfriends Asami, Maki and Rico are depicted naked in outdoor settings, their hands demurely hiding breasts and vulva, poses that parody 19th-century French "pompier" paintings, while we clearly see the girls' cast-off clothes in the nearby brush. Corresponding images show close-ups of piled discarded clothing on the ground. Hirakawa claims that he's trying to see if he can come up with contemporary images of idealized femininity -- of innocence incarnate.

His use of dank colors and raunchy shadows, however, suggests otherwise. There's an edgy element of predatory voyeurism in these photographs that's in direct contrast with the artist's high-minded intentions. In any case, judging from the size of the admiring crowds attending the opening reception, the artist has succeed in provoking a certain buzz, and even controversy, about his new work. As a whole, Hirakawa's pseudo-documentary photographs give us a contemporary kiss-and-tell story -- a tale about having a real winner-of-a-show on his hands.