June 20, 2008
Daido Moriyama, Aoyama ‘Eros or Something Other than Eros,’ 1968, gelatin-silver print
Courtesy of Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography
A retrospective is a rare chance to view an artist’s life work. For
a photographer like Daido Moriyama, whose gritty black-and-white images open windows to his soul, the view is unforgettable. Moriyama’s show at the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography in Ebisu (aka Syabi) is in honor of his 70th birthday and spans his nearly half-century-long career.
The exhibition is split into two parts: “I. Retrospective 1965-2005,” with about 200 images, and
“II.Hawaii,” featuring a series of 66 large prints culled from photos taken during several trips to the islands, many from 2007. Moriyama, one of Japan’s iconic photographers, has a definitive “coarse, shaky and blurred” style that’s been the backbone of his fame. Yet like many so-called greats, this style was cutting edge at its start, formed from the question that has stoked his life-long experimental fervor: what is photography?
Moriyama’s career can be identified by distinctive creative periods, carefully delineated within the show. His first photos, taken with a toy camera named Start, were during his junior high school days. At 21, photography became a fascination, a love-hate relationship, a life-long obsession.
In 1961 Moriyama was introduced to a group of postwar photographers, including Eikoh Hosoe. Moriyama worked as Hosoe’s assistant until 1963, when he became a freelance photographer. His debut work was sparked by the images of photographer Shomei Tomatsu, which inspired him to go to Yokosuka. It was here that Moriyama captured his first series of backstreet images. Published in 1965, “Yokosuka” caught the eye of Shoji Yamagishi, editor of the popular Camera Mainichi magazine, who subsequently published the images and is credited with discovering this enigmatic and controversial figure.
From the ’60s to early ’70s, Moriyama continued to publish mainly in magazines. His “On the Road” series, inspired by Jack Kerouac, appeared in Camera Mainichi, while his 1969 series “Accident” was published in Asahi Camera. The avant-garde magazine Provoke, born of the radical ’60s, became Moriyama’s passionate visual voice. His contributions included the “Eros” series and works in the book First Throw out Verisimilitude, which was published just before the magazine was disbanded.
Provoke’s folding pushed Moriyama into an introspective period first defined by his series “Searching Journeys,” published in 1970. It was the start of his many travels to northern Japan throughout the next decade, a period strewn with creative angst. His famous photograph “Stray Dog” was taken in 1971 during a trip through Aomori Prefecture. Showing a beast with a rabid stare and rough coat, the photograph is likened to an image of the man himself:
a rough-hewn loner, searching through gritty streets for visual nourishment and prey.
Moriyama’s 1981 “Light and Shadow” series, shot in his backyard, brought the artist back to his beloved Tokyo and earned him Photographer of the Year honors from the prestigious Photographic Society of Japan.
In the early ’90s Moriyama worked with the Hysteric Glamour fashion house and published a string of urban-themed volumes titled “Daido Hysteric.” Shinjuku, a 600-page book, was published in 2002 and won the 44th Mainichi Art Award.
Amid all the monochrome there is a surprising dab of color in the exhibition’s “Hawaii” section: three large water images in blue, shot with an instant camera. Is this a rest for Moriyama’s Ricoh,
a move away from his favorite black-and-white Tri-X Kodak film? Perhaps it is a hint of yet another experimental phase in the life of this pioneering, soon-to-be septuagenarian artisan of photography.
Through June 29, Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography. See exhibition listings (Shibuya/Ebisu)