Daido Moriyama

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Daido Moriyama developed a radically new aesthetic for photography, influenced by American photographer William Klein, in which he blurred his photographs and employed strong contrasts to dramatic effect. Moriyama’s photographs captured the cultural shift that occurred in Japan following the Second World War, documenting the seedy and often unseen underworld of Tokyo’s backstreets.

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Early Life

Daido Moriyama was born in Ikeda-cho (now Ikeda-shi), Osaka, where he later studied photography under Takeji Iwamija. Born on 10th October 1938, not long before the outbreak of World War II, Moriyama’s early life would come to be defined by the US occupation of Japan following Japanese surrender in 1945. Moriyama’s work would come to be deeply influenced by Americana in Japanese culture, inspired by Shōmei Tōmatsu, a photographer eight years his senior.

Photographic Career

In 1957 Tōmatsu had formed VIVO, a short-lived but influential Japanese photographic cooperative, alongside Eikoh Hosoe and Ikkō Narahara. In March 1961, Moriyama moved to Tokyo to join the collective, later becoming Hosoe’s assistant following the collective’s dissolution later that same year. From 1968 to 1969 Moriyama became involved with a second short-lived movement: Provoke. The movement centred around an eponymous magazine, which lasted for only three issues. The publication sought to break with tradition, freeing photography from its established tropes and is seen as having a profound influence on Japanese photography in the 1970s and 1980s.

Following the Second World War, Japan experienced significant economic growth and Moriyama’s photographs captured the cultural shift that occurred in tandem. In particular, Moriyama focused on the dark and seedy underworld of Tokyo’s backstreets, left behind by the city’s rapid development. Influenced by American photographer William Klein, Moriyama’s style is defined as ‘are, bure, bokeh’, which translates as grainy, rough and out of focus. Moriyama countered the prevailing trend in street photography at the time, defined by Henri Cartier-Bresson’s theory of ‘the decisive moment’, concentrating instead on photographing the streets prolifically and with haste, often in Tokyo’s Shinjuku ward.

Farewell Photography

By the beginning of the 1970s, Moriyama had become restless. He has stated, “at that time I was frustrated with everything, including photography – particularly my own. There was a sense of irritation generally in the air.” In 1972 the artist published Farewell Photography, having previously presented a mass of damaged negatives to his publisher. The exercise was a cathartic one, in the spirit of Jean-Luc Goddard’s attempts to ‘destroy cinema’ and marked a shift in Moriyama’s photographic work.

In 1974 the artist was featured in the exhibition New Japanese Photography at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Throughout the decade his work took a more classicising turn characterised by visual essays in chiaroscuro and abstraction. One such example is his Tights series, which Moriyama begun in 1986. Employing the same graphic, strong contrasts that he used in his street photography, Moriyama highlighted the curves of his models and the ceaseless repetition of the black lines of their tights. Moriyama continues to explore this subject matter in his current work. His work often explores erotic themes, particularly his Lips series which he has worked with in conjunction with Tights.

Selected Exhibitions and Awards

A major retrospective at Tate Modern, London in 2012, William Klein + Daido Moriyama, explored the visual affinity between both photographers and their urgent and politically profound statements. The same year the artist was awarded the prestigious Infinity Award, Lifetime Achievement category, by the ICP in New York.

Moriyama’s work has been exhibited in museums worldwide, including the Museum of Modern Art, New York, The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Fondation Cartier pour l’Art Contemporain, Paris, Fotomuseum, Winterthur, Museum Folkwang, Essen, and the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography. Most recently, Moriyama’s seminal work, Japan Photo Theatre (1968), was exhibited at the Barbican Art Gallery as part of Another Kind of Life: Photography on the Margins in 2018.