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Review: ‘Daido Moriyama: A Retrospective’ at The Photographers’ Gallery

Photo by Sam Taunton

Stray dogs, wonky toes, bedazzling eyes. These are just some of the subjects of Daido Moriyama’s extensively diverse career as a photographer. Actually, let me rephrase that; documentary photographer. Actually, let’s rephrase that one more time; photojournalist. A collection of the Japanese visionary’s work was unveiled recently at The Photographers’ Gallery, with over 3 floors of the entire building being taken up by his stunning array of images. Now that’s a lotta photos. Kicking off his life as a freelance photographer in 1964, Moriyama started to shoot so much on the streets although street photography looked like it was going out of fashion. Except it wasn’t. Moriyama made it fashionable.

Held on the very top floor of this insightful exhibition are some of the playful photographer’s early works. Many of the images presented cemented Moriyama’s status as a photojournalist during the ’60s, as he questions and comments on the impact of the Western world’s globalizing towards the East. Photos of television screens and news reports, such as the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy in 1968, are among the main highlights from Moriyama’s political portfolio. Capturing TV screens may seem like a throwaway idea as these news clips already exist within the mainframe, but the collection of many such images underlines Moriyama’s keen interest in remediation and the ways in which mass media is represented to the public. Brazilian film director and photographer Glauber Rocha always said his camera acted as a weapon. Moriyama really takes this to the next level here with a heavy-hitting political punch. His media-centred mind is further explored in a huge mirage of work that captures Coca-Cola cans. Much like the pop-art king himself, Andy Warhol, Moriyama also dives into the world of mass-consumerism, so much so that a viewer might just lose themselves in a sea of the brown fizzy liquid when admiring his work.

Like most photographers working in the days of film, eventually they had to give in to the clutches of digital photography. This is exactly what Moriyama has done in his later life, expanding his series of images of consumerist Japan in crystal-clear colour now as well. One engrossing image sees the profile of an unknown woman climbing over a heap of litter, her crumpled white dress literally caught in trash. Moriyama clearly demonstrates the effects of us humans tossing away various plastics, leaving the masses to literally climb over these mounds and mounds of bin-juiced bric-a-brac. Aside from this smelly political commentary, the 85-year-old’s delightful digital collection sees him generally playing around with the effects of colour: self-portraits in dusty mirrors, side-angles of cars all pretty-in-pink, kung-fu posters peeling off brown-bricked side streets. What can I say, the man’s got a good eye.

Almost acting as a symbolic finale in this exhibition is a visual reissue of ‘Farewell Photography’, a photobook originally published in 1972 by the pioneering wonder. One of the most influential photobooks ever, this revised section pinpoints a moment in Moriyama’s life where he said bye-bye to photographic conventions and turned a fresh page towards the avant-garde and abstract. The very act of crafting photos is highlighted as strips of celluloid are displayed in a grid-like manner, with blurred close-ups of various toes and torsos introspective of a photographer’s obsessive and immediate eye. The process of crafting is further shown in a huge, collaged face made up of hundreds of his pics. Each tiny image acts as a pixel in a greater one, with the edge of a building making up an eyebrow, a street pavement forming part of the lips (you get the picture… literally). This is a piece by a notorious artist looking back at the good ol’ days. A perfect image which sums up the life of not just a photography messiah, but a man whose mediated images make a viewer think and not simply admire them.

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Edited by Quince Pan, Photography Editor


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