Arguably, the most prolific contemporary photographer in Japan with a career spanning almost sixty years – former graphic designer and street photographer – Daido Moriyama’s (b. 1938) life is his pictures. He has been on a constant journey immortalising everyday moments with his snapshot photography, what he sees wherever he goes. He challenges the norms of traditional photography and strives against dogmatism with raw, emotional, and fetishistic images. To think of Moriyama is to think black and white, avant-garde, grainy, at times blurred, overexposed fragments of urban life, people and places. London’s soho treasure The Photographer’s Gallery pays him tribute with an extensive retrospective for the first time in the UK, which conveys the scope of his output with over two hundred works spanning from 1964 until the present. It features rare photo books, out-of-print magazines from the early publications in Japan of the likes of Provoke (1969-70), along with his work overseas – especially his interest in American culture – and his legacy documenting the shift in Japan towards a modern society in the ‘80s. On its final weekend, here’s the last call: this one is not to be missed!
Quite often, art seems to be questioned – what is art? There’s no right or wrong, lines blur between the proficient knowledge of the medium and the impulsive form of the artist’s expression. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Art needs a concept behind the creation of the piece. Moriyama has spent his sixty-year career asking a fundamental question: what is photography? For him, what could be seen as a rebellion against the medium is in fact the core of his relationship with it. Some of Moriyama’s photography and distinct profile is what the viewer could assume as a lack of technical knowledge. Was it intentional or just a beautiful accident?
“For me, photography is not a means by which to create beautiful art, but a unique way of encountering genuine reality […] Forget everything you’ve learned on the subject of photography for the moment, and just shoot. Take photographs - of anything and everything, whatever catches your eye. Don’t pause to think,” Moriyama explains. In fact, in Japanese this has been coined as ‘are, bure, boke,’ which translates as ‘grainy, blurry, out of focus’.
However, there is not just one side to Moriyama. Even though he has a distinct style, throughout his career he has explored different ways of producing images. For his more radical work, he uses rejected or solarised images and odd negatives, playing around with the idea of chaos against dogmatism. This was published in his book Farewell Photography. A common process in Moriyama’s way of work has been reusing his own photographs in different contexts, experimenting with enlargements, crops and printing. In fact, most of his work was made for printed pages rather than gallery walls.
Although his most characteristic work is shot in black and white film, he works with digital format  and colour as well. A more recent example of this is his Tokyo Colour series (2008–2015), in which he revisits the Shinjuku neighborhood. He was fascinated by American culture, the Beatnik movement, Warhol, and William Klein. Many of his works overseas are in colour too – New York, Brazil, Germany… a large visual diary of his life. The gallery has built an installation with three projections to cover three walls of the room to observe the three slideshows simultaneously, bombing the viewer with colour images. The concept of memory is intrinsically related to photography. “There may remain some fragments of memory still lying in the depths of my experience waiting to be awakened, and they are ready to evoke new memories at any time. Of course, I need to interpose a camera into that place,” Moriyama concludes.
We thank The Photographer’s Gallery for this unrivaled access to abundant archival and visual material to view, read and discover the world of Moriyama. Go before it ends on Sunday, February 11th!