Observing the present and past is to see into the future

by Stuart Munro

Special To The Japan Times

For the past 48 years, Daido Moriyama has followed his photographic instinct, drawn to subjects whose characters appear as vibrant as they are tragic while leaving the question of which for us to decide. The act of exhibiting, through the unraveling of images, has charted this one man’s continuous urban exploration, which after nearly five decades is still going strong. As the title of this latest show at Gallery 916 suggests “1965~” is an open-ended invitation to visit a very particular place of extremely subjective representation — though on closer inspection, that place may, in fact, be somewhere very different.

Since coming to Tokyo from Osaka in 1961, after briefly working as a graphic designer and becoming assistant to photographer Eikoh Hosoe, Moriyama’s eye has been persistent. His images are taken in the unlikeliest of places, buried deep within back streets, or are close-ups of the familiar, such as a pair of fishnet stockings worn by a then-girlfriend. His persistence is accompanied by a sense humor and the momentary invasion his camera creates.

The tiniest of details draws attention — an open hand as leathery as snakeskin, the emaciated figure of a stray cat or ragged dog. You’re left to wonder how such creatures appear more human through their disgust for being photographed than a seated couple, who, resigned to being caught on film, arrange their hands on their laps instead of embrace each other.

Flashes of color photography add further human presence amid the scenes of close proximity. Steam rises from an industrial rail yard and the track of a recently departed train. Next to this sits an early photograph of actor Mame Yamada, with him standing in the middle of the street waiting for a tram to arrive. These images, along with Yasutaka Kojima’s photography of New York and Tokyo showing in the neighboring 916 small gallery, offer glimpses of places made distinctive by the way they’re lived in, shaped by the women, the bars, stray pets and abandoned cars that all litter the street.

“1965~” makes it clear that we attribute the way we live our lives according to how we will remember them in the future. Moriyama searches the world through association, an erotic and ambiguous place free from the limits imposed upon it. The more detached imagery becomes — disembodied lips, a tire minus the car, a glass half-filled and held by a slight hand — the more these everyday moments describe something unique, maybe even personal, yet familiar to us all in some small way.

And so to the future and what may come. In mind and sight, Moriyama still exerts a sense that the future may be viewed in the way the present is continually reorganized. Recent shows in New York and London saw people literally make their own book from a prepared selection of his images. Ultimately, these events, as with this show, elicit the desire to hunt, detect, seek out and gather fragments, motivated by an intense, instinctive and very personal reaction to the city.

“1965~” at Gallery 916 runs till July 20, open 11 a.m.-8 p.m. (Sat. till 6:30 p.m.). ¥800 (includes entrance to 916 small). Closed Sun., Mon. www.gallery916.com