Daido Moriyama is probably the best known Japanese street photographer. He commands a huge following in Japan and has published a large number of photo books over the course of his photography career which spans almost half a century. He is known for his stark, gritty, grainy, and high contrast black and white photographs of urban life.
When I first came across his work a few years ago, I found it quite hard to comprehend what he was shooting and why. Many of his photographs are of banal scenes . . . stray dogs, alleys, road intersections, junk . . . very ordinary and commonplace. In the same place and situation, I would not even have thought to take a photograph . . . too messy, nothing interesting, etc. But over time, I have slowly come to appreciate his work. I am inspired by his ability to seemingly always see everything around him with fresh eyes, as if seeing things for the first time like a child. I watched a documentary on him called “Daido Moriyama : Stray Dog of Tokyo” a couple of months ago and the thing that comes to my mind when seeing him shoot on the streets of Tokyo is a quote by Garry Winogrand (another great street photographer) ~ “I don’t have anything to say in any picture. My only interest in photography is to see what something looks like as a photograph. I have no preconceptions.“
In 1978, Moriyama rented an apartment in Sapporo, Hokkaido for 3 months. He shot around 2,000 images during his stay and the negatives remained stored away in a cardboard box until 2008 when he finally went through them and selected images to be printed for an exhibition “Hokkaido” as well as an accompanying limited edition massive photo book “Hokkaido” by Rathole Gallery. Northern, Northern 2 and Northern 3 by Moriyama feature images reproduced from the “Hokkaido” book. These images were taken during a time when Moriyama was suffering from depression. The following is a quote he made from another book of his, “Memories of a Dog” by Nazraeli Press regarding this time of his life:
“I rented a room in an apartment for 3 months. During my stay, I promised myself to go out and take pictures everyday as long as it wasn’t raining. (Though I should have gone out even when it rained.) . . . By bus and train, I went here and there in Hokkaido with my camera. Sometimes I spent the night out of my apartment but I usually dragged myself all the way back, eating bread and drinking whisky in a cold room. I’d suffer through another long night just being depressed without understanding why.”
Last year in May, I saw a selection of Moriyama’s Hokkaido photographs at the MIYANOMORI ART MUSEUM in Sapporo. Curiously enough, they were exhibited as a secondary exhibition alongside the main exhibition, Michael Kenna‘s “Landscapes and Memory” which featured beautiful black and white landscape images of Japan with a majority of them being taken in Hokkaido. Anyone who has seen Michael Kenna’s work before will know that his images have a dreamy and peaceful look to them . . . i.e. nothing like Moriyama’s work! It was quite jarring walking into the Moriyama exhibition area after going through Kenna’s Hokkaido images. This is one of the great things about photography, you can have 2 photographers go to the same place/city/etc and each one can see and capture vastly different things.
Like most of Moriyama’s work, the Northern series captures the ordinary in a way that forces you to look and look again. And if inspired, go out and capture the ‘ordinary’ around you, seeing things around you that you never saw before, having no preconceptions, and photographing to see what something looks like to as a photograph.
[Note: Most of Moriyama’s books can be bought from Japan Exposures. I am not related to them but have used them more than once to order stuff. Kurt Easterwood who runs the bookstore section is very helpful. They are definitely reliable and I would not hesitate to recommend them to anyone.]