The Berlin institution presents a dense and intense retrospective of the Japanese photographer. From his photo-journalistic years to his erotic images through his existential questions, the exhibition retraces six decades of masterful practice.
Moriyama has a complex approach to photography and more broadly to existence. Born in 1938, the young boy from Osaka was only seven years old when the Second World War ended, he grew up in post-war Japan under an American dome. In the 1950s, he decided to take up photography and began to explore the streets armed with a Canon 4SB. Without really knowing it, Moriyama was already documenting a Japanese society in profound change, on the way to Westernization, with his blurred, grainy images, with imperfect framing: the Moriyama style was born.
“Japan, A Photo Theater” immediately immerses us in this monochrome, dark and frenetic universe. After leaving his nest for Tokyo in the sixties, Moriyama was commissioned some time later to document the life of a famous experimental theater of the time. We feel in these portraits of clowns and acrobats a strong identity in points of view symptomatic of a way of seeing the world around him with a certain casualness. His first steps in the press followed in the late sixties, at a time when the United States was experiencing many winds of protest. Accidents and all kinds of dismal events then become Moriyama’s favorite subjects. What fascinates him is what all these facts say about the human condition, about the Japanese society that sizzled from within. A shipwreck to evoke the struggle of nature against man or the worried disappearance of villagers to embody the fatal destiny of the countryside. Orgasmic photographic chronicles published each month in the Asahi Camera magazine.
During the same years, when the Japanese magazine Provoke intended to upset photography, Moriyama joined for two years this movement which teased good morals. He published highly erotic series there, such as this naked woman whom he photographed from every angle, with always extreme contrasts and a tumultuous dialogue between shadow and light.
Admirer of Warhol and Klein he quickly also signed iconic works, and we immediately think of the Stray Dog, this disturbing dog who could come out of a novel by Conan Doyle which in turn has become a pop emblem. An attraction that is also explicitly reflected in its short stopover to color. Neon, latex, flame and advertising: little-known works that appear like illuminated bubbles in this monochromatic ocean.
In 1972, Moriyama bid farewell to photography and signed the experimental Farewell Photography which brought together photographs, sections of articles or even personal reflections in an out-of-frame set, which later became cult. It was not until the 1980s that the Japanese artist returned to photography with Light and Shadow: close-ups captured while wandering about the city – the skull of a passer-by, the quarter of a child’s face or even an empty soda bottle revealing the grass through it. Moriyama dissects everything that society gives him to see and at the same time photographs while exploring his own emotional troubles.
Until now, Daido Moriyama has never stopped questioning the photographic medium with which he always had an ambiguous relationship, of love and hate – above all love. Going against the flow that you have to constantly reinvent yourself, but rather dealing with what already exists – reference to Labyrinth published in 2012 with archives from the 1960s to 2000, in particular of his trips to the most inspiring cities in the world. Sensuality, materials, humans, animals and brutality: we find there all the resolutely modern aesthetic ingredients of the one who dared go beyond the norms and still upset them today, at 84 years old.
Noémie de Bellaigue
Daido Moriyama at C/O Berlin until September 7, 2023.