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5 Oct

Celebrating 60 years of Daido Moriyama’s visionary street photography

Celebrating 60 years of Daido Moriyama’s visionary street photography

Daido Moriyama is a relentless and restless photographer. “My body inevitably enters a trancelike state,” he once said, describing his devotion to image-making as an “infinite murmuring refrain”. Known for his unpretentious and democratic approach, the Japanese iconoclast has tirelessly documented the road for nearly 60 years, publishing his work in a whole lot of photobooks and countless magazines. He stays one among the world’s most prolific living photographers, using his lens to capture and comment on reality, capitalism, and the mass consumption of images.

This weekend, an expansive retrospective of Moriyama’s work will open at The Photographers’ Gallery in London. It’s the primary exhibition within the museum’s 52-year history to occupy your entire institution – from the gallery spaces on its upper floors, to the ground-floor cafe, and basement book-shop. One floor of the gallery can be transformed right into a reading room, offering a rare opportunity to spend time with Moriyama’s defining publications.

The show will feature large-scale prints of Moriyama’s raw and grainy images, but at the guts of the retrospective are magazines and books. In a single room, 140 spreads can be printed and pasted as wallpaper, while one other will screen a three-hour projection of your entire archive of Moriyama’s self-published Record magazine. In line with curator Thyago Nogueira, this is precisely how Moriyama wants his images to be seen. Born in 1938, Moriyama made his name within the 60s as a contract photographer for magazines like Asahi Camera, Camera Mainichi, and Shashin Jidai. These titles shouldn’t be mistaken as trade publications. They were progressive and radical, propelling the medium forward through genre-defying approaches and significant essays. 

“Daido really learned to take into consideration photography within the context of communication and of mass media,” says Nogueira. “That is where he found the great thing about the image – its changing life, its changing features, and its wide circulation.” In 1969, Moriyama joined the groundbreaking magazine Provoke, which shook the art world with its “are, bure, boke” (“grainy, blurry, out of focus”) black-and-white images.

“Moriyama is fascinated by how we substitute our desires with images and the way we fetishise our lives” – Thyago Nogueira

Magazines were at the guts of his practice  – a world away from stuffy galleries and the industrial art market. That is what makes Moriyama’s work, and this retrospective, so special, and relevant. It’s an invite to experience the unique sequencing and design, and the gesture of flicking through the physical publications. Crucially, it’s also a chance to contemplate how photography has developed as a medium, and the way it has influenced modern society today. His concerns about mass media and the over-consumption of images will feel strikingly relevant. “Moriyama is fascinated by how we substitute our desires with images, and the way we fetishise our lives… how images can construct a latest world, a latest reality, and the way we begin to live in those realities,” says Nogueira. “He was eager about this within the 60s and 70s. It feels very contemporary, to take into consideration how we’re affected by images and the way our lives are guided and ruled by a picture culture.”

Moriyama will rejoice his eighty fifth birthday next week, and, in keeping with Nogueira, he still shoots every single day. “[The images] are digital, they’re low-quality. He’s saying you don’t must leaf through a viewfinder, you don’t need special equipment. He’s just walking around and shooting images as if he had a machine gun.” As Moriyama famously said: “For me, photography isn’t a way by which to create beautiful art, but a singular way of encountering real reality.”

Daido Moriyama: A Retrospective is running at The Photographers’ Gallery from 6 October 2023 until 11 February 2024.

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