Most people don’t get Daido Moriyama… it is understandable. In the beginning I didn’t either. I bought his book Tales of Tono a few years back and thought – what is this shit. Some of the photos were blurry and indistinct, with some it was hard to tell exactly what they were at all, some were to my eye way too dark, some were overexposed, they were extremely random and uncoordinated.
I didn’t get it, what did people see in this guy?
And then I got to the rear of the book and read Daido’s own provoking honest portrayal on his reasons for travelling to Tono and undertaking the project; a portrayal that runs for some twenty or more pages, subtitled – Why Tono – To Tono – In Tono – and finally – Another Country. Following the emotional drive that propelled him forward and understanding his life up to that point, his notion of never having had a home-town to call his own and his desire that Tono could be it (or at least his vision of a possible home-town) to photographing his own memory piece by piece in fragment form as if it were a jigsaw puzzle made the images come alive anew.
I began to see them through new eyes.
I then started to look through other work that he had done and I began to see a common thread running through his photographs, that of a desire to deconstruct photography. His book Farewell-Photography shows this at its extreme, a collection of anti-photographic photographs, and at one point he even set out to destroy photography, as he put it, by providing his publisher with a set of damaged negatives to be printed as they wished. This is what makes Moriyama different to almost any other photographer, he doesn’t follow the rules or even cares about them that much, he walks his own path. He says in the video above that when he was younger and in the darkroom with his photography buddies he used to pick up the negatives off the floor that they had discarded, he used to say –
‘Why not use these, they are photographs too?’
To his mind it didn’t matter if they were blurry or deemed as poor quality, to him they were still moments in time, moments worth preserving. There is also an emotional seam running through a lot of his work that is difficult to replicate, although personal reflection and its capture through photographs is a rich feature. In the documentary – Memories of a Dog – Journey to photography – he makes the remark that photographers ride a train, a train called memory. This tells you a lot about the mind of Daido Moriyama and how he goes about his work.
Personally, studying his work has made me realise that photography truly is like being on a train, a train where you are free to wander and get on and off at will, the view outside is ever-changing it is up to us how we capture it. It is not merely a study of the world through our eyes that matters most but through our emotions, not only our emotions but the emotions of the world around us, cities and landscapes are emotive too if we allow them to be; photograph this way and our images will have more depth, more soul. Even if you don’t like Moriyama’s photographs I find that studying his work opens up new ways of thinking, to see photography from a whole new prospective.
In the films linked in this post Moriyama is 73 years old, but now in 2017 he is fast approaching his eightieth year and he is still shooting, still smoking (he must be immune or something), and still has a passion for the power of photography after countless decades on the street. He is a photographer who definitely polarises opinion, some people love him while some hate his work, there tends to be little middle ground. Those that love him, his fans, like to refer to him as – the-master – Study his photographs and watch his documentaries…
…and it isn’t hard to see why.