The exhibition at C/O Berlin examines the vast universe of Daido Moriyama’s photographic oeuvre in a rare assortment of photobooks, magazines and nearly 250 large-scale installations. “Daido Moriyama . Retrospektive” reminisces over the Japanese artist’s lengthy career spanning over six decades.
“What is photography? Who is Daido Moriyama?”
C/O Berlin‘s latest retrospective seeks answers to these among other questions in a carefully curated exhibition which uncovers the evolution of Moriyama’s photography and dissects his provocative attitude towards the medium. The retrospective highlights two phases of the photographer’s work. It begins with his earliest attempts at developing what would later be identified by critics and scholars alike as Moriyama’s idiomatic approach to photography, defined by his non-conformist, anti-elitist philosophy. This phase of the artist’s life, which saw the inauguration of his unique photographic grammar and technical dexterity, is highlighted in his early series for Japanese magazines such as Camera Mainichi and Asahi Camera, as well as his experimental years in Provoke magazine. It was during this period that Moriyama developed his unique aesthetic, often described as are, bure, boke (grainy, blurry, out of focus).
His artistic progression came to define an entire era of Japanese photography, but it was the status quo of Japanese society during the 1960s – 1980s that laid the groundwork for his dissident work. Throughout his career, Daido objected realism despite it being the predominant movement among his peers, making way for a more intuitive practice, deprived of pretentiousness and clichés. Ultimately, Moriyama’s artistic evolution grew into an expression of Japan’s multifaceted and ever-changing reality. Following the establishment of diplomatic relationships with the US in post-war years, a wave of Western-bred consumerism and mass media culture spread across Japan, prompting a counteraction by Moriyama. His street photography shed light on the fleeting nature of Japanese quotidian life, as opposed to the carefully curated and propagated press images of mass media. Ironically, the man who objected realism in photography ended up producing some of the rawest works in the medium for his time.
The second phase that constitutes Moriyama’s career is often regarded as having evolved from his intimate journey towards introspection and his determined investigation into the essence of photography. Asking “What is photography?” naturally segued into “Who is Moriyama?”, and these questions outlined the tone of his philosophical writings, which C/O displays alongside his photographs. His writings demonstrate an elaborate level of philosophical grasp and contemplation, adding another layer of poetic sophistication to his intellectually charged portfolio of work. A quick examination of these and we are led to believe that Moriyama’s journey into self-reflection coincides with his study of the nature of photography. “I and photography are one,” he once said, irrevocably confirming it as his own ikigai.