Sebastian Smee on Satoshi's "Night People" Photography

Satoshi Kinoshita's deceptively straightforward night portraits are tributes to human doubleness, to the two selves we all conceptualise ourselves as playing host to: the good me, and the naughty me.

If his subjects are all more or less busy playing out the role of the 'naughty me,' they nevertheless can't help conjuring up an image of their other half – the helplessly good and innocent me that holds down a day job and is kind to its mother. The tension between the two halves – and the fact that each can't help revealing the other in ways that are at once exciting and absurd – is what gives them their beautiful bite.

Being a photographer, of course, is itself a sort of license for doubleness, and Satoshi makes brilliant use of it. His camera gives him special access and privileges in the 'here and now' for the express purpose of creating visual documents all about 'there and then': that night, that costume, that me. There is something unique and unrepeatable about the resulting portraits – something that already belongs to another time, another self, almost as soon as it is taken.

Satoshi Kinoshita was born in Osaka and now lives in Australia. His subject matter is wide-ranging, his influences equally so. The photographs here were taken over several years in the 1990s, during which Satoshi turned into something of an in-house photographer at Sydney's popular – and at times notorious – Hellfire Club. Like Weegee or Diane Arbus before him, he possesses the rare gift of being able to take photographs of explicit or confronting subjects without seeming in the least salacious.

Part of the secret, of course, is his ability to bestow as much sympathy and focused attention on an ordinary looking face as on a sensational shot of a naked woman bound and gagged. In other words, he earns our trust, so that we look past the prurient appearance of certain images toward the telling details, the subtle giveaways of internal states. In casually tender ways, these photographs manage to perform the cruel task of showing the gap between what we want the world to know about us on any given night and what we can't help revealing about ourselves. They might be theatrical portraits, in the sense that Satoshi's subjects are dressed up and in the mood to show off. But his flash also reveals all the awkward realities, the half-shut eyes, the thwarted fantasies, the tell-tale folds of flesh and running make-up that bring one's fantasies back to earth.

Are these in any sense 'bitter' realities? No, in Satoshi's portraits it doesn't feel that way. What comes off them instead is an open-hearted embrace of human peccadilloes and idiosyncrasies, a preparedness to smile upon the high temperature obsessions we are all, as humans, so comically prone to, and which only some of us have the courage and the wherewithal to pursue.

© 2001 Sebastian Smee
© 2001 Chapter & Verse

Sebastian Smee is a former art writer for the Sydney Morning Herald, the Daily Telegraph, the Art Newspaper in London and the Australian and now works for the Boston Globe's visual-arts critic. His work has also appeared in the Spectator, the Financial Times, the Times, Prospect, the Independent on Sunday, and the Australian's Review of Books.

In 1994, he received a bachelor of arts degree, with honors, in fine arts from Sydney University. He reviews books regularly for the Spectator and is himself the author of books and essays on the British painter Lucian Freud as well as ''Side by Side: Picasso v. Matisse.'' Later this year he will publish a monograph on Freud's complete works on paper.

He has relocated to Boston with his wife and two children since May 2008.

Mr. Smee is the finalist of The 2009 Pulitzer Prize for criticism.

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