Interview by Donatella Montrone

"1800 millimeters is the size of my bed," explains Tokyo-based photographer Emi Anrakuji of her work, 1800 Millimètre – a series in which she explores portraiture by way of the intimate folds of her body.

Emi studied oil painting at Musashino Art University in Tokyo and was diagnosed with a brain tumour not long after she graduated. And so began her decade-long fight for survival from the confines of a hospital bed, battling a tumour that caused irrevocable damage to her eyesight. "I lost sight in one eye," she says. "The other eye, which was spared, has congenital amblyopia [a sight disorder that results when the eye and the brain don't work together properly]. One day, I tried to pick up a pencil, but I couldn't see its tip. I was so shocked, I even thought of dying."

For a long while, trapped in her own private hell, Emi refused to make any art at all. "A long time passed before I could finally make out the lace of the pillow and the stains on the sheets. That was a pivotal moment."

And so, in the absence of a subject on whom to focus her gaze, Emi became her own muse; legs splayed, crouched on a bed on all fours, squatting over a mirror, a finger inserted into her vagina, 1800 Millimètre came to life. "The pictures are not erotic at all," she says of the images. "It's just work that came out of my sickbed."

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Donatella Montrone (DM): How did being sick for so long inspire the work?

Emi Anrakuji (EA): During my recovery, I shot and made thousands of photographic prints. I love paper and books, so I made many photobooks by hand and titled them by subject. Without any specific purpose, I continued to create books as if I was reciting a prayer to Buddha. After a while, the pile of handmade books had reached from my desk to the ceiling. Nazraeli Press found out about my work, and expressed an interest in publishing my book as it was. My first book by them, entitled Anrakuji, is based on the original cover and layout of my handmade book.

DM: Your face is obscured in many shots. Why is this?

EA: I am the only subject in all of my work, but although I am present in all the photographs, I never reveal my face in the shots. In my view, 90 percent of our life is made up of negative feelings—frustration, sadness, pain, loneliness. And although the remaining 10 percent can be glorious, bliss is only a modest pleasure—looking up at a celestial sky, the beauty of light and shadow cast by the sun or moonlight, the scent of flowers as it's carried by the wind. My work is not just about me—it's also about you.

DM. Some of your photos are taken in the street. How did you manage to find such isolated places, set up a tripod and timer, and take images of yourself without being noticed?

EA: 1800 is constructed around my bed. But in the case of my outdoor photography, I can take off my clothes very quickly. And if someone asks me, "What are you doing there?" I answer like this: "I am a graduate student of the arts, and I am working on a school assignment." Then I escape immediately. I am a lone wolf, and I will continue as a lone wolf until I die.

—Emi Anrakuji, interviewed by Donatella Montrone (@appieclappie)


1800 Millimètre, along with Emi's other work—A Decent Life, Chasm, O Mapa and Ipy—will be on exhibit as part of a solo show, Emi Anrakuji, at In Camera Gallery in Paris, from September 17 to October 13.

Emi Anrakuji is represented by Miyako Yoshinaga gallery in New York.

Emi Anrakuji's handcrafted photobooks are available from Nazraeli Press.

Donatella Montrone is a freelance journalist based in London.