NEW YORK AND PARIS |  Lens exposure and color contrasts are one thing. But did his camera need to throw dark dotty shade at Tokyo streets?  His photographs have, after all, gone on auction for as high as $ 61,774 (in 2008).

The Japanese photographer Daido Moriyama used an ordinary compact camera and never shopped shooting — and altering — the images he took.  Tokyo’s contradictions fascinated him the most.  In “Shinjuku,” 1977, Moriyama shows us a Tokyo sex shop whose façade has been painted with an image of Marilyn Monroe, the late starlet representing a western ideal of female sexuality used to entice people into the store.

Daido Moriyama's Zoku Nippon Gekijo Shashincho (Japan, a Photo Theater II), 1978 | Photo courtesy of the artist and Yoshi Gallery
Daido Moriyama’s “Zoku Nippon Gekijo Shashincho” (Japan, a Photo Theater II), 1978 | Courtesy of the artist and Yoshi Gallery

In “Tokyo Meshed World,” 1978, a mural of a nude Japanese girl — as much a fantasy as the image of Monroe — represents another side of the sexuality of the city.  Moriyama’s dark obsessiveness shadowed the city that fascinated his unerring eye from his days working on the revolutionary “Provoke” magazine in the ‘60s, and through the ‘70s and beyond.

Often exhibited and still-touted in the visual-art world, Moriyama remains one of the most celebrated photographers to emerge from the Japanese Provoke movement of the 1960s. Since October 2016, his photographic documents are being shown in Paris at the Gare de l’Est train station, tracing a symbolic imaginary connection between France and Japan. This installation, entitled “Scandalous,” picks up on his famous “Accident” series, which was initially published in the form of chapters in the Japanese magazine Asahi Camera, between January and December 1969.

Earlier in 2016, New York’s Yoshii Gallery presented “Tokyo Meshed World,” an exhibition featuring unpublished gelatin silver prints taken by Moriyama between 1975 and 1978.  (The show’s title refers to the title of the aforementioned 1978 gelatin silver print from which Yoshii Gallery took the show’s name.)

“Shinjuku,” 1977, by Daido Moriyama | Courtesy the artist and Yoshii Gallery

Moriyama has only recently begun to show the full extent of his archives for the 1970s in a handful of recent photobooks (including 2013’s “Mirage”) and exhibitions like 2015’s “Daido Moriyama in Color” in Milan.

This latter exhibition in Italy focused on the artist’s rarer color work. Paris’s “Scandalous” and New York’s “Tokyo Meshed World” display photographs in the format Moriyama is perhaps best known for: silver gelatin prints.  All of them showcase familiar subjects for the artist — the postmodern metropolis of mid-to-late-century Tokyo, mostly taken in the candid, blurry style that is Moriyama’s trademark.

During the 1960s and 1970s, Japan was thrust into the postmodern era without having achieved a mature stage of modernity. The country pursued industrialized and consumer capitalism while the development of its mass media continued to accelerate. The Tokyo landscape was suddenly and drastically altered.  Mechanically reproduced images, piles of neatly stacked merchandise, and highly stylized women in overtly sexual advertisements were everyday scenes from the city’s utopian vision for economic and cultural progress.

Daido Moriyama's
Daido Moriyama’s “Tokyo Meshed World,” 1978 | Courtesy of the artist and Yoshii Gallery

The primary method for reproducing this profusion of posters, magazines and billboards was the halftone printing process. Using that method, screens of small dots — in other words: “mesh” — are printed in layers to produce color images.

In Paris’s “Scandalous,” the photographer reproduces, reframes and signs images of events, celebrities or news events from the press, television, films or posters – a work inspiring critic and photographer Takuma Nakahira to ask Moriyama to participate in the magazine Provoke in 1969.  (“Scandalous”) is available in the form of a fully serigraphed book, published by Akio Nagasawa Publishing, in Tokyo in 2016.

In New York’s “Tokyo Meshed World,” Moriyama’s photos show optimistic advertisements depicting images of Western celebrities like Marilyn Monroe and Brigitte Bardot, borrowed and stylized to the point where they begin to taken on Japanese anime features. However, sinister feelings of boredom and loneliness lurk in the shadows of these bright lights and excitement for the pursuit of change and economic growth.

As the Yoshii Gallery press release puts it: “By weaving visual gossamer and transforming objects into amorphous patterns, Moriyama takes these scenes even further – transcending boredom and nihilism, and escaping the emptiness of the everyday.”

Daido Moriyama's
Daido Moriyama’s “Tokyo Meshed World,” 1978 | Courtesy of the artist and Yoshii Gallery

“Mesh” refers the physical nature of these prints. It’s being a photographic term for the screens of small dots used to build the images when printed.  You might also say “mesh” might allude to a “meshing” of east and west, I suppose. But that would be a boring and banal formulation — another one of those dumb comments about how Tokyo at the time was increasingly becoming a mixture of traditional Japanese and western values.

Daido Moriyama was born in Osaka, Japan in 1938. He studied photography under Takeji Iwamiya and the legendary experimental photographer Eikoh Hosoe. In 1969, he was an active contributor in Provoke, a magazine founded in 1968 that — if only briefly — became a melting pot for the most radical of Japanese photographers.  These group of image-makers took experimental, anti-aesthetic, and provocative form of photographic works, and they were published in the magazine linking to opposition of all group members to the Vietnam War and Japan’s official policy. —rg



Daido Moriyama

“Smash-up,” from Accident, 1969

May 14, 2008

Christie’s London

$ 19,487 –

$ 29,231 USD

$ 61,774 USD

Daido Moriyama

“Stray Dog, Misawa,” 1971

May 14, 2008

Christie’s London

$ 19,487 –

$ 29,231 USD

$ 46,574 USD

Daido Moriyama

“Untitled (Lips),” 2007

April 14, 2010

Christie’s New York

$ 8,000 –

$ 12,000 USD

$ 40,000 USD


Daido Moriyama

“Tights in Shimotakaido,” 1987

May 14, 2008

Christie’s London

$ 11,692 –

$ 15,590 USD

$ 36,051 USD


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