A short Introduction (Note 1)
“I have always felt that the world is an erotic place. As I walk through it my senses are reaching out. And I am drawn to all sorts of things. For me cities are enormous bodies of people’s desires. And as I search for my own desires within them, I slice into time, seeing the moment. That’s the kind of camera work I like (Moriyama, 2012a).
Clarity? Is that what photography is about? Moriyama would object. Should his introduction thus be first and foremost about clarity? I would object. Evoke, provoke.
The underbelly of Tokyo, an underbelly developed by the phenomenal economic growth Japan experienced after the second world war, a mixture of desires. Desires cultivated through a far reaching urbanization. Streets full of people, full of desires. Moriyama, a stray dog, an alley cat, or even an insect, wanders from alley to alley, resurfacing and again disappearing … an endless wanderer framing the streets of Japan’s major cities with a small, hand-held camera. Images of underlit bars, strip clubs, alleyways, …. the frame often tilted, featuring a pronounced grain, heavily saturated, contrast emphasized, blurred suggestion of form, caused by the movement of the subject, caused by the moment, caused by Moriyama’s wandering desire.
Raw images, savagely abstracted imagery, often focusing on details that lack context evocating a feeling of fragmentation and suffocation. Are, bure, boke. Are bure, boke. Are, bure, boke. rough, blurred and out-of-focus. These three signifiers became synonym with a specific way of portraying postwar Japanese society in the light of new social and political realities and the fundamental changes that protruded it; a portrayal aimed to pervert the existing public imagery of the era, an imagery increasingly underpinned by commercial visual language. Are, bure, boke. A style that defined the Provoke group and their short-lived magazine.
Moriyama was drawn, almost against his will, to this Provoke group, who were critical of Japan’s post-war westernization, Americanization and commercialization. Not without standing the fact of being part of this group, part of this left-wing opposition – several of his images portray rows packed with American products on the shelves of Tokyo’s supermarkets, Moriyama’s images are notable for their morally ambiguous tone.
“I think by nature I’m almost biologically apolitical (…) For me photographs are taken in the eye before you’ve even thought what they mean. That’s the reality I’m interested in capturing ( Moriyama, 2012b)”
For Moriyama, It’s not politics that underpin his photography, but desire. Desire, his desire and the desires of the others, in the ever-changing Japanese society. If one, in the end, has to describe Moriyama – he was born on October 10, 1938 by the way, then I would propose the following: his photography is one long search for his own desire – without the necessity of being aware of that desire at the moment an image is captured – in the erotic ‘world’ of desires – the post-war world characterized by the breakdown of traditional values. His street photography, the way in which Moriyama approaches the street, the scene, constitutes a sort of free association; every picture affected by his subject and his desire.
“I like the smell of desires, and Shinjuku is the gathering place of all desires” (Moriyama, 2013).
The aspect of desire, which distorts every ‘picture’ in general – Moriyama literally distorting every picture, forces us to end this introduction with a question: has desire ever been about clarity?
Note 1: This introduction is mostly based on the references one can find in the reference list. It should be seen as a sort of evocative syntheses of the various sources. Nevertheless, the ending remarks are my own interpretation.
Moriyama, D. (2012a). Daido Moriyama: In Pictures. Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=foWAs3V_lkg&feature=youtu.be
Moriyama, D. [Hsu, W. J.] (2013). Daido Moriyama Captures the ‘True Reality of Life’. Retrieved from: http://blogs.wsj.com/scene/2013/11/11/daido-moriyama-captures-the-true-reality-of-life-with-his-lens/
Moriyama, D. [Hudson, M.] (2012b). Daido Moriyama: Low life in Tokyo retrieved from: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/art/art-features/9604154/Daido-Moriyama-Low-life-in-Tokyo.html
Wholey, M. (2013, January 25) For the sake of thought: Provoke, 1968–1970. Retrieved from: http://www.moma.org/explore/inside_out/2013/01/25/for-the-sake-of-thought-provoke-1968-1970
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The man who drew me back into photography after many years away.
I almost met him last November in Tokyo, but kept missing him by a day. I did however get to see some of his prints that he made in the 70’s in a little gallery in Zushi. Really beautiful.
A nice write up!