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Contact Sheets: Daido Moriyama Labyrinth

I have always dreamed about having the opportunity to browse through Daido Moriyama’s contact sheets. With the release of Daido Moriyama: Labyrinth by Aperture, it is no longer a dream. Labyrinth reproduces a collection of contact sheets made from recombined negative strips from the huge body of work Moriyama has amassed over the last fifty years. There are photographs in the contact sheets that are familiar to me and many which are not.

The following is the blurb from the book’s jacket. Besides the blurb, there is hardly any text in the book. The rest of the book consists of page after page of contact sheets:-

Contact sheets ordinarily don’t leave the confines of a photographer’s studio. They are meant for the photographer’s eyes alone – a tool to aid in the hunt for a single frame to enlarge and print. The contact sheets reproduced in this volume, however, no longer serve that purpose. Instead, they offer a means of reconsideration, a vehicle for the photographer Daido Moriyama to review the span of his career and to recompose his work.

The pages of this publication reproduce a series of individual contact sheets that Moriyama has created by mixing together negatives from disparate rolls of film. In a single sheet, work from different periods of his fifty-year-long career are juxtaposed by the artist. Work shot in the 1960s, for example, appear alongside images shot recently. While each sheet has a certain theme, taken as a whole, each individual frame is given equal standing regardless of its chronology or provenance; Moriyama makes little or no distinction between each instance of the shutter’s release. Contact-printed negatives of Moriyama’s best-known images appear side-by-side with previously unselected and unreleased material, radically flattening the traditional hierarchy of the “masterpiece.” Instead, the totality of his work reveals volumes more than singular isolated images.

By compelling himself to look back through all his existing negatives, Moriyama offers both the viewer and himself a deep immersion into over fifty years’ worth of images – a chance to lose oneself in a labyrinth of images, continually moving forward, on an unknown path toward an uncertain destination.

Moriyama’s book ’71- New York featured a few pages of contact sheets and it left me wanting to see more; I was really glad to see that Labyrinth had 40 pages out of the total 304 pages dedicated to contact sheets from his trip to New York in 1971 where he shot with an Olympus Pen half frame camera.

Labyrinth compared to Magnum Contact Sheets (see my REVIEW HERE) is much more manageable in size and weight. It is light enough to hold in your hands and rotate when necessary to view the contact sheets on the pages. With 300 pages of contact sheets, even with repeated viewings, it will take the viewer a long time to absorb.

It always helps if the photographer gives some information about the context within which his/her photographs are taken (e.g. where, when, and why) to better understand the thought process that resulted in the photographs being captured. Labyrinth provides no such information and the viewer is left to guess or imagine what went through Moriyama’s mind as he went about shooting. You do get to see many sequences in which Moriyama is obviously working the subject and for me, those are the most interesting.

“Whoever it is that I am looking for has yet to reveal himself, so I continue my journey.

Each day is a journey of the mind and body through a labyrinth. Sometimes my steps follow a path. Other times, I find myself wandering.

The different realms to which I go are like disjointed parts of a puzzle, never finding resolution.”

~Daido Moriyama

Moriyama who is already in his 70s, seems to be releasing a few photo books each year. Daido Moriyama: Labyrinth (available on Amazon US and UK) is unique among the books he has released so far and I would highly recommend it to all practitioners of street photography. Even if you find the majority of Moriyama’s work mundane and unrefined, from the contact sheets, you get the sense that he shoots for the pure enjoyment of making photographs. Each viewing of Labyrinth leaves me with the desire to just go out and shoot regardless of the results. This alone is reason enough for me to own this book.