The famed Japanese photographer has previously been forced to veiled his photography in museums to appease censorship, but here he lifts the curtains on his notable series Kikuo Reclining Woo—Man (1997–2001). Ryudai Takano exhibits nudities that lean beyond the Western mainstream. The title derives from “Reclining Woman”—a title often found among European classical paintings. The play on words is tongue in cheek, but the photographs are honest.
The series chronicles a meeting of two forces. Takano was exploring how to capture his own sense of beauty prior to meeting Kikuo. However on meeting Takano's path changed to centre on Kikuo; a stout, naked, middle-aged man, lying on a sofa bed. He speaks of the transcendent power of the ugly Takano explains, “the beauty and strength I was seeking seemed like an armor masking the inevitable weakness of human beings. However, I could not easily accept the situation that the photos I take with all my efforts would lose to the ones I took unceremoniously.”

As Duncan Wooldridge mentions in his foreword, Ryudai Takano's photographs are showing us “how to rethink vision”—and he begins to let us know the multifaceted world and its diversity through his photographs. Displayed in a book for contemplation we relish the opportunity to sit with this master.
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Can you talk a little about your creative process going into Kikuo Reclining Woo-Man and the inspirations as well as influences in your life that helped to shape such a riveting collection?
At that time I was seeking “something beautiful”. I was especially particular about creating a beautiful image. One day I was shooting a naked body of a person I found attractive. It was in the mid-1990’s. At the end of the shoot, I saw a few film frames were left on the camera. If I finished the job then, they would be wasted, I thought. So, I asked the person to lie down on the bed for the time being, and I just shot it to use up the film with no intention or purpose.
After the shoot, I first made contact prints. I was surprised to see them. There, a sagging body of a middle-aged person was seen in an unprotected form. I had never looked at the person in such a way until then. My immediate thought was ugly. I even thought it should not be. The photo was careless in double meanings; the person in the photo exposed the body with no defense and the photographer did not control the image properly.
What was the biggest thing you learned about yourself as well as your career as a photographer while creating Kikuo Reclining Woo-Man?
Those days, I thought it was a photographer’s job to sublimate what is in the photo into beauty even if it is ugly. Beautiful things contain a kind of strength. But that photo with the naked person could not be absolutely acceptable, conveying a sense of pain and some weakness.
However, whenever I saw the contact prints, I was interested in only that one with the naked person. It suddenly hit me as I felt something graphic beyond my expectation. This seemingly weak photo seemed to show a bare human being that cannot belong to a particular purpose, and it became increasingly difficult for me to resist its appeal. Compared to what I found in the photo, the beauty and strength I was seeking seemed like an armor masking the inevitable weakness of human beings. However, I could not easily accept the situation that the photos I take with all my efforts would lose to the ones I took unceremoniously. In this way, after I was bothered with this concern for almost a year, I could not help but admit that my aesthetic sense [had] lost to the photos I took roughly.
What story are you trying to convey? What do you think the overall message of this series is as a whole?
The world is so wide and deep. If you manage to take a very good photo, you could go farther beyond the [highly visibile] world [into the ugly] within your scope. It, Reclining Woo-Man was the result of thinking that I might be in front of the entrance leading to such a wider world. Since then, I have changed my way of shooting to deeply take in the world, instead of just making pictures through photographs. It was also a major shift in reversing the vector of consciousness from inward to outward.
That is how the Kikuo Reclining Woo-Man series came into the world. It was born by turning my eyes toward something in front of me which I had not tried to see. I think it was also an “adventure to explore outside the consciousness”.
By the way, when I released the series for the first time in 2000, one museum curator said to me, “Why did you take this kind of photo? I do not want to see it”. Certainly, the series contains “violence showing what you do not want to see”. However, there is also “violence treating existing things as if they do not exist ”. When I thought about which violence I should avoid, my decision was not to be part of the violence to reject what is existent. I think that actively visualizing a body, which is outside the scope of a well-proportioned "beautiful" body, will lead to affirming its existence. In fact, this work, which was so much rejected 20 years ago, is now fairly well received.
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Why did you decide to have the title of your latest series be seen in a parody sense while the actual photos themselves deal with serious issues and themes? Was there any specific reasoning behind this?
I thought that a gap between the serious content and the title would make the viewers interpret the works more extensively. By the way, this is not the “latest series”. I was making the series at the late-1990’s, although, of course, Kikuo Reclining Woo-Man has been re-published recently.
What is the significance of having the pictures in Kikuo Reclining Woo-Man be in black and white?
The reason I made black and white photos was due to my intuition that their simplicity would suit the series.
Can you talk a little about your first interaction with Kikuo, and what inspired you to continue pursuing him as the main subject in your masterpiece?
I only shoot acquaintances or their acquaintances. I once put a recruitment notice for a model in a subculture magazine my acquaintance introduced me to. Then, it was Kikuo-san who contacted me. But nobody else.
Looking back, what would you say was the biggest challenge about this project? Is there anything you would do differently?
I have a series Kasubaba that captured the familiar streetscapes in Japan I had even tried not to see. I think that there is something [thematic] overlapping between the photos of Kikuo with this point, “I did try not to see”.
With strict nudity laws in Japan, especially in regard to what parts of the body one is allowed to show with their art, why is making your work about sexuality and nakedness so important to you?
It is a hard question to answer, but I would think because I simply like these two points.
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What inspired your style of work in terms of wanting to capture binary sexuality as well as nudity within Japanese culture while also trying to branch away from traditional institutionalized values?
A Japanese novel, Kokoro by Soseki Natsume, Ukiyo-e paintings by Harunobu Suzuki and Olympia by Édouard Manet and a series of his works.
What are some of the things you do to stay mentally and inspirationally aligned with your photography?
To abandon self-consciousness [as well as thinking] this is my photograph.
In what ways do you think your photography makes the viewer rethink traditional values and cultural norms?
Most of the things I take photos of have usually no values. However, I think that when viewers find them beautiful, sensual and interesting unexpectedly, their existing sense of value is wavered.
I read that since 1998 you have taken photos every single day. What impact do you think this has had on your career, and what do you think the biggest change within yourself has been while doing this process?
Expanding possibilities for seeing.
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Are there any artistic fields outside of photography that you want to start incorporating into your own work in the future?
How do you think photography has changed from the early 1960s compared to the 1990s and even into the present day? What will the future of this field look like in terms of how the culture of photography shifts?
If we define a photograph in a limited way as "an image created by pressing the shutter button of a camera ", it also means "an image created by mechanically compressing a three-dimensional space into two dimensions". You are not so aware of it, but what appears at that moment is "composition". The composition cannot be seen when stereoscopically viewed with both eyes.
The composition changes, depending on which side of the three-dimensional space you look at. In other words, the composition shows a photographer’s interpretation of the world. If you explore the composition appearing in the screen no matter what the subject is, you could grasp the photographer’s consciousness beyond the motif. The composition is a key factor to interpret the photograph.
Meanwhile, the other elements (light, colour, focus, aperture, shutter speed) forming the image has no difference from those in a video. However, the composition does not take a leading role in a video. The motion on the screen is the main job for a video. Watching a video means that you are watching the difference between one moment and the next. There, the composition has no choice but to play a supporting role.
Nowadays, because of the drastic changes of the functions of a camera, which is a shooting tool, a photograph has become part of a video. As a result, it is even thought that a photograph has no place to be useful other than a processed pictorial photograph. Such new kinds of photographs are competing for the flashiness of the screen, and sometimes it seems to me that the contents of their screens are superficial. What stuck out in my mind from them is the photographer’s screaming for show-off, "Look at me!" This tendency is found not only in processed works but in so-called straight photographs. I think a phenomenon, you might call an “excessive visualism”, is now occurring.
Under such circumstances I think about the future possibility of photography; new prospect may be developed by focusing attentions on “how to create the composition”.
What does the future look like for Ryudai Takano? Are there any projects you are working on that you are waiting to release?
I have been recently taking more videos instead of photos, calling them a “snap movie”. This is a lot to do with the fact that I have been able to take photographs and videos without confusion because I understood their fundamental differences.
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