Since the 1960s Japanese photographer Daidō Moriyama (born 1938) has been making dynamic, often experimental images of modern urban life, establishing a reputation as one of the most important and exciting photographers of our time. The Philadelphia Museum of Art will present an exhibition of approximately 45 photographs by Moriyama, made in and around Tokyo in the 1980s, when the artist focused his mature aesthetic on the city with renewed intensity. The exhibition will be on view from February 28-June 30, 2009 in the Julien Levy Gallery at the Ruth and Raymond G. Perelman Building.
Born in 1938 in Ikeda-cho (now Ikeda-shi), Osaka, Moriyama witnessed the dramatic changes that swept over Japan in the decades following World War II. After his father’s death in a train accident, he began working as a freelance graphic designer at age 20. He was intrigued by the graphic possibilities of screenprinting, the cheapest and most prolific form for printed imagery, and by international trends in contemporary art. These interests, along with attention to the various forms of visual stimuli that populate the urban landscape have been a hallmark of Moriyama’s career.
In 1960 Moriyama took up the study of photography under Takeji Iwamiya and one year later moved to Tokyo hoping to join the eminent photographerss’ group VIVO, a short-lived cooperative whose members were exploring and confronting the revolution in modern Japanese society in their work. Although VIVO disbanded a week after Moriyama’s arrival in the capital, the visual and existential turmoil they explored would become one of the core subjects in Moriyama’s photographs. His gritty, black and white images of streets and highways express the conflicting realities of contemporary Japan, the disorienting and sometimes brutal juxtaposition of traditional culture and modernization.
“It is a pleasure to present this group of photographs from the Museum’s collection reflecting the distinctive vision of Daidō Moriyama, who is undoubtedly among the great urban photographers of the 20th century,” Curator of Photographs Peter Barberie said. “These particular images focus on the visual experience of modern-day Tokyo, but through them Moriyama is documenting broader global trends of modernization, and at the same time exploring the unique aesthetic qualities of his medium.”
His early images from the 1960s and 70s tested the notion of photographic artistry in an extreme fashion. He chose seemingly arbitrary subjects, and experimented with motion and overexposure to create blurred or nearly blank images, adopting an anti-aesthetic position. Other Japanese photographers were also working in this vein, but Moriyama’s 1972 book Bye Bye Photography became the defining statement of this particular style. The later photographs presented in this exhibition are generally sharper in focus but maintain the peripheral vantage point that Moriyama so often employed, as well as the seemingly random content. His images capture with an equalizing eye the kinds of disparate peripheral details that litter the modern urban experience: shadows, cars, and abandoned corners, as well as the glut of consumer goods and commodities.
Profoundly influenced by Japanese photographers Eikoh Hosoe and Shomei Tomatsu, Moriyama’s vision was also enriched by his acquaintance with the work of American photographers William Klein and Robert Frank. Like them he practiced a new, more action-oriented street photography. His images are often out of focus, vertiginously tilted, or invasively cropped.
His work also involves strong responses to a wide range of modern art and literature, including photographs and graphic designs by many of his Japanese contemporaries, Andy Warhol’s silkscreens, and the novels of Jack Kerouac and James Baldwin. The exhibition will include a small number of works by other artists to demonstrate his visual sensibility, including prints and photographs by Warhol, Klein, Shomei Tomatsu, and Tadanori Yokoo.