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Daido Moriyama at the Taka Ishii Gallery - 2000

by Monty DiPietro

There is an old saying: The more things change, the more they stay the same. It is a queer little adage, more easily understood than explained. And so it is with the work of photographer Daido Moriyama, who, after an embarrassing foray into silk-screening last year, seems back on track with his latest show, a photo tour of the JR Chuo line’s Nakano, Suginami, Musashino, and Koganei Wards. The exhibition, "Four Wards," features several dozen black and white Polaroid cityscapes, and it is now up at the Taka Ishii Gallery in Tokyo’s Toshima Ward.

Moriyama, 61, is from the old guard of Japanese photographers, and has been working and exhibiting since the early 1960s. His motif is rough, anti-technical representations designed to fragment the visual information in our urban environments. He often takes photographs of photographs, usually those he finds in magazines or on posters. Moriyama’s 1999 "Rafflesia" exhibition, which was also at the Taka Ishii Gallery, seemed a departure at first glance, but was it really? The crash victim and flower pictures presented there had both been shot from magazines, and the two-color, off-register silk-screens exhibited another characteristic of Moriyama’s oeuvre – an unsettling similarity to the work of other artists. In the case of "Rafflesia," it was Warhol, while a seascape in Moriyama’s 1998 Parco Gallery "Fragments" show, on the other hand, looked a lot like it was taken from Hiroshi Sugimoto’s signature series. This time around, it is difficult not to draw a parallel between Moriyama’s latest work and Nobuyoshi Araki’s earlier "Tokyo Nostalgia" black and white shitamachi streetscapes.

But what makes Moriyama’s work different and gives these pictures their value is the artist’s cool and detached approach. When looking at Araki’s streetscapes, one can sense the presence of the photographer on the scene. Moriyama’s pictures of Tokyo, meanwhile, are pictures of Tokyo. And as these pictures testify, there is plenty to photograph in Tokyo.

The 7 cm square prints are mounted behind white matte and framed in painted white wooden frames. There is a feeling of discovery here, as the roving Moriyama finds a bunch of cigarette butts in an ashtray; a street cat scrounging for scraps of food; tangles of tiny shopping streets. There are almost no images of new buildings, most of the photographs look as if they could have been snapped decades ago. All of the photographs were taken during the daytime, and the contrast between light and shadow is heightened by the artist’s use of a Polaroid, which spits out a print, affording zero opportunity for darkroom manipulation of the negative. Some of the pictures are clouded and spotty, this presumably caused by humidity or cold (the pictures were taken in October and November), another characteristic of Moriyama’s low-tech picture-taking process.

"I can’t control the results with a Polaroid," explains Moriyama at the opening party, "and I found that very interesting. Also, most neighborhoods around the Chuo line stations have a shitamachi atmosphere, and so many of the people who live there do as well. That might be why the pictures look nostalgic."

The work in "Four Wards" is taken from the Wides Publishing book "Passage," released in December 1999, the latest in a string of photography books Moriyama has put out. Moriyama is well-regarded overseas, he has had solo exhibitions in Los Angeles, Paris, and New York over the last few years. His latest change of direction (actually Moriyama had a Polaroid show in Tokyo two years ago), is refreshing, especially after the experiment with silk-screening. He’s come full circle, and it’s good to have the old Moriyama back.

Notes: Until Feb 5 2000 at the Taka Ishii (3915-7784).
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