Daido Moriyama: His Presence Appears to be the Ultimate Fantasy for Chinese Post-80s Generation

Text by Steven Dragonn

Published on: February 4, 2016, by Art and Design

Daido Moriyama is a name that is extremely familiar to the Chinese photography community. He not only represents the status of Japanese post-war photography in the history of world photography, but also brings a sense of relief to an oriental country known for its camera manufacturing by producing several world-renowned photography masters, including Moriyama himself, Araki Nobuyoshi, Sugimoto Hiroshi, and Shinoyama Kishin. However, the most important reason why he is familiar to the Chinese people, in my opinion, is the significant connection between his shooting and presentation style, which has an Eastern visual language system. After all, the two Eastern countries have a close resemblance in terms of aesthetic taste, reading methods, and the cultural heritage that shapes their ways of thinking. Especially among the post-80s generation in China, Daido Moriyama has deeply resonated, and there is a coincidental association with the lifestyle of that generation.

Before delving into this topic, let’s review Daido Moriyama’s personal information:

Daido Moriyama was born in 1938 in Handa City near Osaka, Japan. In 1958, he worked as a freelance graphic designer and became interested in photography after being inspired by the work “New York” by American photographer William Klein. In 1959, Moriyama joined the studio of the renowned photographer Takeji Iwamiya as an assistant. In 1961, he was attracted to the photography group “VIVO” and decided to move to Tokyo. Unfortunately, upon his arrival, “VIVO” had already disbanded. Witnessing the disappointment of this young art enthusiast in tears, one of the members of “VIVO,” Eikoh Hosoe, took him in as his assistant and helped Hosoe complete the photography collection “Killed by Roses” (1963) featuring the contemporary Japanese writer Yukio Mishima. The turning point in Moriyama’s life came in 1964 when he became an independent photographer and gained recognition for his photography of the Yokosuka US military base. In 1967, Daido Moriyama received the Newcomer’s Award from the Japan Photography Critics Association. The following year, he published his first photography collection, “Japan: A Photo Theater.” In 1968, at the age of thirty, Moriyama joined the avant-garde photography group “Provoke,” organized by Kohei Yoshiyuki, Takuma Nakahira, and Yutaka Takanashi, marking a significant turning point in contemporary Japanese photography history. They issued a manifesto of “providing material for thought” and challenged the prevailing standards of precision and aesthetics in Japanese photography at the time, sparking a subversive wave in photography. Daido Moriyama, as the most prominent newcomer of the group, published numerous street photography works that shocked the critics and the public in the second issue of the magazine “Provoke.” Since then, he has always been at the forefront of Japanese photography, offering sensitive responses to the changing times through his unique street snapshots. His images, with a strong Japanese regional characteristic, gradually gained worldwide recognition. From his first overseas solo exhibition held in Austria in 1980, Daido Moriyama has been invited to exhibit his works in Japan, Europe, and the United States. In 1999, a large-scale retrospective exhibition titled “Stray Dog: Daido Moriyama” was held at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, followed by touring exhibitions in various cities in the United States, including the Metropolitan Museum ofArt in New York. In recent years, Daido Moriyama’s influence and reputation have extended beyond photography circles, capturing the attention of art enthusiasts and collectors worldwide.

“To me, photography is not about observation, nor is it simply about creating a magnificent work of art. It is a historical process of accumulating memories, a fossil of time, and a myth of light and shadow.” – Daido Moriyama

Daido Moriyama’s unique style of photography, characterized by unconventional angles, roughness, blur, high contrast, and coarse grain in black and white photos, along with his darkroom techniques, creates a powerful visual impact. He primarily uses the compact camera Ricoh (Ricoh) GR21 for his work. He prefers lightweight cameras and rarely uses single-lens reflex cameras for photography. In his own words, “When you use a single-lens reflex camera, you naturally pay attention to details such as focusing and composition, and you may have already missed the moment that moves you. With a lightweight camera, you can shoot freely based on your current thoughts and ideas. In the streets of Shinjuku, if you take out a single-lens camera to photograph people, they will turn their heads away. But a lightweight camera is not so conspicuous and doesn’t make people reject it. You can even aim the camera at the subject (person) you want to photograph without looking through the viewfinder and without them noticing.” In his autobiographical work, “Memories of a Dog,” he describes himself as a stray dog and compares himself to “a dog wandering the streets, taking photos everywhere like excreting.”

“Photography, to me, is not a mere observation, nor is it solely about creating a magnificent piece of art. It is a way to discover certain fragments of the world that hold a connection to one’s own life through personal experiences. It is a quest to spiritually encounter those fragments and entities. Often, I find myself caught in the dilemma of introspection and presenting my will to the era, feeling trapped in an inescapable dilemma.” – Daido Moriyama. From his understanding of photography and his photographic approach, we can glimpse a certain Eastern essence, characterized by blurred concepts (multiple interpretations), spiritual connections (imagery), personification of objects (expressing thoughts through objects), and transcending materialism. However, when combined with the urban themes he focuses on, the abrupt visual clashes suddenly give this Eastern quality a sense of “contemporary art,” without falling into the clichés of traditional culture. In the eyes of Westerners, it even appears to have a touch of Eastern “romanticism”!

Daido Moriyama first entered the public consciousness in China around the late 1990s to early 2000s, a time when the country began to catch up with the rest of the world. Looking back at China in the 1990s, photography was still dominated by professionals like journalists, and documentary photography and marginalized subjects became the top games pursued by the photography industry. The rise of “photography enthusiasts” and the emergence of two of the most important human geography magazines in China, “National Geographic China” and “China’s Cultural Geography,” made “exploring the frontier” the trendiest slogan in popular photography. Meanwhile, Daido Moriyama’s name gradually spread among the artistic youth of the post-80s generation in this context. The unconventional, visually striking, slightly cynical, out-of-focus, and unconventional anti-refined realism, although incompatible with mainstream photography, became the most important reason for the enthusiastic reception by the “rebellious generation” of the post-80s. This is closely related to the living environment and conditions of the post-80s generation and cannot be separated from the cynical psychology of being able to produce “masterpieces” using inexpensive photography equipment.

The hundred-year radical modernization process in Chinese society has resulted in different generational identities. The term “post-80s” emerged first, followed by the appearance of the “post-90s” generation. The post-70s and post-60s generations, who held the dominant discourse at that time, also introduced group characteristics such as the “post-70s,” “post-60s,” “post-50s,” and so on. In terms of artistic aesthetic tendencies, the post-50s and post-60s generations had a strong emotional attachment to realism. Therefore, they preferred Soviet-style realistic oil paintings and rural realistic themes, similar to how a certain director was criticized for only filming rural themes and not urban ones. The post-70s generation had an inherent connection with the realism of the time, akin to an obsession. As a result, there was a certain sense of identity between the political spectrum, documentary photography, and them.

For the post-80s generation, just like the cities they grew up in, urban life themes were always intertwined with their memories—vertical ecology, bustling nightlife, hallucinations, blurriness, lack of persistence, the rejection of rationalization, and the attempt to indulge. The urbanization movement in Chinese society began in the 1990s and intensified in the early 21st century. Rural youth flocked to the cities for work, and the post-80s urban youth entered high school and university during the most rebellious and unrestrained period: their non-mainstream attitude was their final fantasy of resisting the sorrow of reality. As Daido Moriyama said, “I really love cities, especially big cities. The bigger the city, the more diverse the people, the more stories, and the faster the pace. The city contains human desires and social desires; it is a chaotic state. For me, I really enjoy capturing the feeling of these entangled desires. If I were to express it in my own words, I feel that the city itself is art. I don’t need to create art; I just need to capture the authenticity of the city. That’s why over the years, I have never tired of shooting the city streets and have always loved it.” Moriyama’s style naturally satisfies this scene. Therefore, in China, a large group of “Moriyama fans” has emerged, and a fixed photography style has even been formed. In a large online photography community, it is easy to find works of this style. Superficially, this seems like a kind of K-Pop or J-Pop aftermath. However, the emergence of this style is a result of two inevitable conditions: similarity in semantic and linguistic systems, and alignment with the environment in which it emerged. However, compared to Moriyama, there is a stark difference. One person observes the world with their own power, while the other constructs their world through a collective.

The “Insight and Heart: Daido Moriyama Solo Photography Exhibition” held at the Jifeng Gallery in Hong Kong may not be a large retrospective exhibition, but it does not prevent us from exploring his influence on the art market and academia. Of course, Hong Kong is a hub for Asian art, and my knowledge of Hong Kong is limited, so I cannot make unfounded conclusions about Moriyama’s influence on the people of Hong Kong. However, I believe that Moriyama also has a large group of admirers and followers in Hong Kong, which is undoubtedly related to the conditions, habits, and methods of art collection among the people of Hong Kong, which have progressed ahead of those in mainland China. However, I believe that in the near future, there will definitely be large-scale exhibitions of Moriyama’s work taking place within mainland China. (Editor: September)

Original article in Chinese: https://kknews.cc/photography/zxk6vlp.html