In the realm of the senses

Daido Moriyama’s street perspectives as living art

Text by Paul Davies

It would appear uncomfortable and squeamishly ironic to suggest that  Daido Moriyama's photography was a consequence of "right time, right place". The Japanese master is certainly renowned for his gritty depictions of post-war life in Tokyo, offering a rich palette of the city and its inhabitants both struggling and accommodating rapidly changing ways of life. And, "art" likes to attach the romantic notion that the best works emerge from adverse conditions.

But, Moriyama is categorically not a reportage photographer. He strips away the context to zero in on a singular aspect that catches his eye. And in doing so, invites the viewer to create their own subtext. He is a street-level photographer, however. As he approaches his 75th birthday this October, Moriyama is still very much present amongst the alleyways of Tokyo's eclectic Shinjuku district.

By the mid-'60s, two decades of reconstruction and American aid had left their mark on the country, with the inevitable erosion of traditional values and new forms of consumption. Moriyama was drawn to the city zones that were being ignored during rapid industrialisation. Monochromatic, askew angles and an exaggerated grainy quality became his signature. As London gallerist Michael Hoppen explains when visiting Tokyo 12 years ago looking for new talent, "I felt there was a very different visual language to be learnt in Japan, and  Daido is a great exponent of that." Moriyama says he is influenced by the Americans. William Klein, Warhol, Kerouac; but also Yukio Mishima and Shomei Tomatsu's social critique.

This autumn, London's Tate Modern mounts a joint exhibition by Klein and Moriyama in which images of their respective cities underline the reciprocal exchange of ideas between both. Preceding this is a solo exhibition at Hoppen's gallery focusing on two specific bodies of Moriyama's work, Tights and Lips. Due to a recent discovery of lost negatives, some of the work will be new and mirror work from 1987. "It is very much about the shapes, the geometry. They are magnificent sculptural forms," Hoppen promises.

Tank has chosen the Lips series as indicative of Moriyama's intense focus on a singular object. As much as the immorality of Shinjuku conveys the raw power that excites him, the larger-than-life billboards and relentless product advertising that populates the city fascinates him too. Not so much for their erotic nature, unlike his longtime friend, Araki - but because they have become legitimised into daily life. And are ripe for appropriation into an existing archive of visceral imagery. §

Tights and Lips is currently at the Michael Hoppen gallery, London until October 20th. Visitors bringing a copy of this issue are eligible for a discount on a limited edition box set of postcards published by the gallery.

A Daido Moriyama/William Klein exhibition then opens at Tate Modern from October 10th to January 13th.

  • Daido Moriyama – Paul Davies #1
  • Daido Moriyama – Paul Davies #2
  • Daido Moriyama – Paul Davies #3
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