Daido Moriyama at the Parco Gallery

by Monty DiPietro

It is certainly appropriate and long overdue that Tokyo’s Parco Gallery – the Shibuya Ward exhibition space that for the last several years has been one of the city’s premiere contemporary art-photography showcases – is taking a look back at the history of the medium in this country with "Moriyama Daido: Fragments," a retrospective featuring some 100 works, mostly black and white, that trace the artist’s oeuvre from 1964 to the present.

These are powerful, evocative images, characteristic of Moriyama’s interest in exaggerating the way in which photography "fragments" our perceptions, and in the way the artform fundamentally differs from painting.

While paintings are two-dimensional representations of reality, photographs are simply flat. It is the seven centimeters or so that separate our eyes which affords us the ability to see slightly around objects. Close one eye, for example, and, but for a familiarity with the nature of objects in our everyday environment, we would have a difficult time understanding the relative distance and size of subjects in our field of view. This is how a photographer, robbed of a painter’s stereovision while looking through his lens, sees the world. But perhaps "robbed" is the wrong word. Moriyama once remarked in an interview, referring to images printed on a page, "I sometimes feel more vital reality in a printed woman than I do in a flesh-and-blood one. When that happens, I shoot the printed one."

While there are a few pictures of women in this show, among them the Japanese photographer’s requisite up-the-girl’s-skirt-white-panties shot (where does this fascination come from?), the subjects of Moriyama’s big, grainy, high-contrast prints are as varied as you’ll find in any photography show. There are sides of beef, piles of bicycles, puddles in the street, and sunflowers in a meadow. The best word to describe what unifies the artist’s work is probably the one he chose to title this show, "Fragments." These are flat pieces of reality, and in an illustration of another basic difference between photography and painting, it is clear that they have been grabbed from the world in a fraction of a second, in the tripping of a shutter.

"The photograph," writes critic Noi Sawaragi in his catalogue essay, "isn’t a reflection of the world. It’s the flow and intensity of the world itself." About the "Fragments" catalogue – it is one of the more imaginatively produced exhibition books this writer has seen this year. Published by Synergy, Inc., who also put out a CD ROM series chronicling Japanese photographers, the catalogue is as fragmented as Moriyama’s show – the title page appears in the middle, the table of contents toward the back (or is it the front – there are no page numbers), some pages are left blank, and there in the middle, on thin paper, we find a single color photo. Nice, and English-speakers will be happy to note the bilingual essay.

Another surprise in the show is a room tiled with 3,400 Polaroids that photodocument the four interior walls of a teenaged girl’s room, shot-by-shot, side-by-side. Visitors will find themselves assembling the ambience of the room, putting together the pieces. It’s great fun, and hints that artist has a sense of humor somewhere behind the black and white that dominates this show.

If he does have a playful side, the Osaka-born Moriyama, who turns 60 this week, doesn’t show it as, dressed in black, he forgoes the opening party schmoozing to sit at the gallery entrance signing copies of his catalogue for awe-struck guests, many of them local photographers a third of his age. The artist seems to enjoy playing the role of "sensei," and anyway, his doing so underlines the fact that most of today’s shutterbugs have a lot to learn from Morimura’s studied "Fragments," which make up one of the better photography shows of the year.

notes: until Oct 29, 1998 (3477-5740)
Moriyama at the Taka Ishii Gallery, 1999.
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