Exercise · Research work by Daido Moriyama

Daido Moriyama

Moriyama official sitehttps://www.moriyamadaido.com/en/photogallery/

‘Daido Moriyama Born in Osaka, Japan, in 1938, Daido Moriyama came to photography in the late 1950s while fitfully pursuing a career as a graphic designer. A 1967 award from the Japan Photo Critics Association launched him on a career that immediately peaked with his first book, Japan, a photo theatre (1968)¹. Radicalized by street demonstrations in the late 1960s against the Vietnam War and the United States’ continuing presence in Japan.’ (exposure magazine, 2018)[1] Moriyama was associated with the short lived photographic magazine: Provoke. 

video showing some of his work in book form from Bye Bye photographyhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J58FQ4iyJvg

In Moriyama’s work I see the touches of other photographers such as Klein, in his up close blurred portraits, Frielander in his self reflections in mirrors and sun glasses, Bresson in his decisive moments, Winogrand in his angulation and vantage point of the camera in some of the photos and some others as well. Besides all of that, I also see a distinct style within Moriyama’s work that is cathartic but never obscene and grotesque; anxiety ridden but not unnerving.

The heavy grain, deep shadows and the often indecipherable focal points and typical framing make the images quite exiting to look at and for me at least provocative on a visceral level. In observing Japanese culture I see more and more something of a society of contradiction and contrast that perhaps Moriyama was attempting to depict via his use of deep grain and contrasted images?


Daido Moriyama K (date unkown) [2]

Moriyama uses a visceral and gritty and off kilter approach to work which in effect gives it a heavy interpretation at least in my mind, towards this kind of rugged and slightly cynical even angry element. Moriyama’s work has been described by Yokoo: ‘His pictures are like someone who talks, without looking people in the eye’, (Yokoo cited in: Charrier 2010) [3] The described coldness and distance from Moriyama to his subject is I think perhaps partially true. His city scapes and some of his subject matter of people does not always seem to be so cold and distant. In looking at his work further, Yakoo notes that he was struck by Moriyama when they went to New York in 1971 as suffering with ‘some unnamable fear within him’ (2010) [4] 

Could this fear then of been one of the factors coming through in Moriyama’s work? Would it not stand to reason that a photographer in a state of alert, would produce photography that stands out as portraying altered and urgent situations or situations that lack clarity and warmth?

Moriyama’s work needs to be seen in the light of his character and life circumstances. His challenging of the ‘subject centred’ style of documentary photography, instead, bringing his subjective personal experience into relation with the outside world perhaps can be made more clear when looking at his personal history. Moriyama evidently had a twin brother who died and whom who never knew, as a consequence. Not only this but also he has never able to talk about it with his parents (perhaps to do with japanese customs of manners and etiquette?). (Charrier, 2010) [5]

Moriyama in a short video explains that when a photo is taken by the photographer with intent, the image belongs to the photographer, however, once this photo is out in the public domain this is no longer the case. The image then belongs to each viewer’s subjectivity, feelings and memories. (Hasselblad award winner, 2019) [6] For Moriyama, the camera exists as a copying device. He see the camera as a means to take a replica of the world around him, freezing the moment as a memory in time. 

In Moriyama’s portfolio we see such projects as ‘farewell photography’ and ‘Japan photo theatre’ and ‘light and shadow’. There is also: ‘hunter’, ‘dog and mesh tights’ and several others that belong to the same author. Indeed, wether the subject is banal, such as a pair of boots in ‘light and shadow’ or more gritty such as the photos taken of foetuses of dead borns (japan photo theatre) the style of his work is very similar. In a way it appears incredibly consistent throughout his career as photographer.

I do find it curious that Moriyama has the view that his work is a ‘copy’ of the world. In what sense does he mean this? His work seems heavily interpreted through his own subjectivity and therefore far from a copy in the straight documentary sense of the term in relation to so called ‘objective documentary photography’. Perhaps Moriyama is being a little provocative, it would not be out of keeping with his style and his historical connection with provoke magazine.

In terms of modern day practitioners, I see some similarity in style with the work by Trent parker (Magnum photographer) in ‘Dream life’ (1999). In this work we observe the same grainy style, deep shadow light contrast and subjective image making. Perhaps then in fact Moriyama has invented a style into being that some other practitioners wish to borrow or emulate.


  1. Exposure magazineA Matter of Reasonably Abstracted Sensuality — Daido Moriyama: Record (2018) [online] https://medium.com/exposure-magazine/a-matter-of-abstracted-sensuality-daido-moriyama-record-9b71a442a4c3 [accessed, February 2020]
  2. Moriyama, D. ‘K’ (date unknown) [online] https://www.moriyamadaido.com/en/photogallery/ [accessed, February 2020
  3. Philip C.  (2010) The Making of a Hunter: Moriyama Daidō 1966–1972, History of Photography, 34:3,268-290, DOI: 10.1080/03087290903361431 [accessed, February 2020
  4. Philip C (2010) The Making of a Hunter: Moriyama Daidō 1966–1972, History of Photography, 34:3,268-290, DOI: 10.1080/03087290903361431 [accessed, February 2020
  5. Philip C (2010) The Making of a Hunter: Moriyama Daidō 1966–1972, History of Photography, 34:3,268-290, DOI: 10.1080/03087290903361431 [accessed, February 2020]
  6. Moriyama, D. Hasleblad award winner (2019) [user generated content online] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pAbhkLxhn40 Youtube. c. Hasselblad foundation [accessed, February 2020]

Published by Truevisionphotography

I'm a student photographer studying through the OCA a UK based arts university. I'm in the foundation year of my studies and enjoying it immensely. I'm also a yoga teacher and co-founder of Bodhiyoga a buddhism based yoga teacher training program that runs in the UK and Spain each year. As a photographer I'm interested in all forms of fine art. I find the arts really important in my life. I love nature and aim to be in the outdoors as much as I can. Generally I think that all the different strands of my life are flowing to towards self development in the greatest sense of the term. The arts, buddhist practice yoga and meditation are all tools to that end. I feel committed to communication the these values in the world both through the visual arts as well as teaching.

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