Monday, 14 January 2008

Daido Moriyama - Memories of a Dog



Continuing on the theme in the Xiaolu Guo post, how writing creates a visual sense of place , there are very few photographers whose writing adds to their visual sense of place. One of the exceptions is Daido Moriyama's Memories of a Dog. I did pieces on this book - which is more of a psychological history of post-war Japan (and its associated identity problems) as it is a photobook - for lovely people at both the late, lamented Feer and the BJP.

Memories of a Dog

Daido Moriyama was seven years old when America dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The post-war years he grew up in were the bleakest time in Japanese history. Living amid scenes of destruction and occupied by the Americans, the Japanese people were dislocated from their past. Having effectively lost their identity, they turned inwards and dedicated themselves to the rebuilding of their country. Economically, it was a hugely successful venture. Culturally and psychologically, it was a time of darkness, depression and spiritual emptiness.

This was the environment Daido Moriyama grew up in, and the atmosphere and mood of this environment is what he photographed. Throughout the 1960s and 70s, he shot the world around him - the streets and alleyways around his Shinjuku home, the roads on which he travelled, the television which he watched. He photographed his own disturbed, inner state, and in doing so captured the troubled soul of post-war Japan.

Moriyama’s photographs from this time are some of the most distinctive images ever made. Blurred, dark and grainy, they are also completely at odds with traditional ideas of what a good photograph is supposed to be.

“Daido’s work is difficult,” says Michael Hoppen, whose Michael Hoppen contemporary Gallery represents Moriyama in the UK. “Sometimes people see it and think, ‘Why would anyone want to buy Daido’s work? It looks like he doesn’t know what he is doing. So when you see his work, you have to forget everything you know about photography. Instead you need to know something about his background and what he’s trying to do.”

“Daido Moriyama is a true visionary,” says Martin Parr. “He has a very distinctive language that he’s made his own. There are only 5 or 6 truly great photographers in the world and he’s one of them.”

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