Daido Moriyama at LACMA

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Daido Moriyama is more than a photographer, he is a star. At least that is what it seemed when close to one hundred people lined up for his talk at Art Catalogues at LACMA. Fracture: Daido Moriyama, a small show of his grainy black and white photographs from the 1960s to the present along with a grid of newer color pictures, is on view in the Pavilion for Japanese Art through July 31.

Moriyama has a reputation for the edgy and the erotic and many of the pictures at LACMA have the feeling of being outtakes from a dark and dense foreign film. Most were taken in Shinjuku, the Tokyo neighborhood known for the proximity of its business district to its racy nightlife. During the talk, Moriyama's 40 years of photographing Shinjuku were compared to Eugene Atget's coverage of Paris but he would prefer a comparison to William Klein's photographs of New York. He likes a tough, confrontational quality.



Shinjuku #11, 2000
Gelatin-silver print
13.25 x 9 inches (33.66 x 22.86 cm)
Collection of Gloria Katz and Williard Huyck
© Daido Moriyama

Everything in his pictures is suggested. Speaking to LACMA curator Edward Robinson through translator (and architect) Kulapat Yantrasast, Moriyama said that he likes that photography is "not conclusive." Shinjuku 11 (2000) is a picture of a woman's hand with painted nails against a post, a bit out of focus, while the lighted signs and cars in the distance are quite clear. Kagerou (1972) is the vertiginous view of a tunnel taken from within a moving car so that lights bounce and reflect in patterns. Other photographs depict a stray dog, a male performer in crumbling pale make-up and the back of a man's shaved head. These pictures are not only black and white, they seem to convey sensations that are similarly shadowy, menacing and intense. Even a photograph of young men lying on a beach conveys none of the sunny pleasure usually associated with such a scene. Questioned about the oft-mentioned erotic component of his photography, Moriyama explained that he sees what is erotic about a scene but that doesn't mean sexy. "Erotic is what aspect talks to me, it is my way of looking." For example, he is attracted to the erotic power of shiny, metallic objects, motorbikes and cars, all of which he has photographed repeatedly.



Kagerou (Mayfly), 1972
Gelatin-silver print
11 x 16 inches (27.94 x 40.64 cm)
Collection of Gloria Katz and Williard Huyck
© Daido Moriyama

Moriyama was born in 1938 in Osaka but moved to Tokyo in 1961 and worked as assistant to the photographer Eiko Hosoe, famous for his daring black and white photographs of the Japanese author Yukio Mishima. Moriyama also was affected by the silk-screened photographic work of Andy Warhol. His work is decidedly, intentionally urban, gritty yet titillating. His ongoing relationship with Shinjuku is based on his passionate affection for the neighborhood, which has remained a magnet for dodgy characters and situations despite the relentless redevelopment of Tokyo. As he put it, photographs enable him to retain his memories. Organized by Robinson, it is Moriyama's first show at a museum here. The exhibition is modest in size -- just 45 photographs and books that demonstrate his background in graphic design -- but you can see more of his images in books of his work, many of which are signed and for sale, at Art Catalogues.

Daido Moriyama, Untitled, printed 2011; Chromogenic print, 20 x 24 in. (50.8 x 60.96 cm.); Courtesy of the artist, © Daido Moriyama