Black and white. Surrounding grey walls. A sense of darkness engulfs you and Daido Moriyama’s photographs. The Japanese artist has recently reprinted scenes of Tokyo, portraits, and close-ups on silkscreens on display at Hamiltons. Despite the sun beaming through the skylights overhead, the tone of the gallery is intense and stifling .
Moriyama depicts the aftermath of World War II, transcribing American urban influences, underlining a society breaking traditions and struggling to balance a conflict of generations. Born in Osaka, Japan, the artist moved to Tokyo in the 1960’s and trained under Eikoh Hosoe before exploring photography himself. Heavily influenced by Shomei Tomatsu, Moriyama’s work differs in the urgency of his shots.
Praising William Klein’s vibrant black and white New York scenes, Moriyama turned to the city of Tokyo and in particular the neighbourhood of Shinjuku to seize the moment through non-judgmental and attentive eyes. Facing city dwellers, passers-by, and prostitutes, he vehemently presses the shutter release, capturing the action as it unfolds. In several interviews, the artist highlights the value of the eyes while observing a scene. Nothing is orchestrated. When the model is usually at the mercy of the photographer in Moriyama’s set-up, he obeys the subject matter. What is on the other side of the lens counterbalances the perfection of the photograph. As a result, his renderings are imprinted with humanity and reality.
The repetition of pop culture images within the one same photograph, translate Warhol’s influence in Moriyama’s creativity. In those exhibited at Hamiltons, the subjects vary from lips to a self-portrait, car crash, legged fishnet stocking, and a plane. They subtly disclose the state of a country and its population witnessing political change. The images, by the way they are shot, share a photo-journalistic approach: a series of spontaneous documents revealing concerns of a troubled town . He remarkably captures the underground activity of a city in full transformation, concentrating his attention on Shinjuku. This particular neighbourhood is at the heart of Moriyama’s work which he describes as a ‘Pandora’s box brim-full of modern myths’.
The rough and thick grain of the silkscreens add a mysterious and peculiar effect to the work. If we look at Nobuyoshi Araki and Hiroshi Sugimoto’s black and white images, they have just as much impact as Moriyama’s. The purpose of their photographic means is not the subject itself but rather the impressions, thoughts, and reactions emanating from the photographer’s view.
From a Western perspective, Japanese culture is perceived as one of humility and discipline, therefore when an individual poses in an untraditional manner, or when an object is shot from an uncommon angle, the feelings captured on film are in my opinion even more powerful. The expression reflected in the eyes of the protagonist is amplified, leaving a tangible emotion on the photographs surface, almost alive.
Scene: Daido Moriyama at Hamiltons (15 May – 17 August 2018)