This Week In Photography Books – Daido Moriyama

- - Photography Books

by Jonathan Blaustein

Get out of your comfort zone. Popular advice nowadays. I’ve dispensed it myself, in this very column. I must admit, though, its begun to sound like a giant cliché. Too bad.

People say it all the time, as if a comfort zone was a physical place, like an oppresively small powder room. You’re trapped, with little more than a toilet and a sink. The walls are closing in. And you must get out. Are you too big to shimmy out the window? Are you strong enough to break down the pinewood door? If not, you’ll be trapped in your comfort zone. Forever.

It doesn’t work like that. Though the phrase is admittedly overused, the meaning is profound. What do you do well? What is your behaviour pattern? What can you bang out in your sleep? Those are difficult questions. Once answered, then comes the hard part. Stop doing what you do well, and try things that you are bad at.

I push myself with my artwork, and realize that I need to do it here as well. Lately, I’ve tried to change up my writing routine by letting books germinate in my head, rather than being so quick to judge. Does it make me a better writer? I don’t know, but the point is that growth rarely happens without work.

Today, we’re going to follow up on this new trend. In fact, I’d like to discuss a book that I previously dismissed: “Okinawa,” by Daido Moriyama, published by Super Labo. If you read this column religiously, you might remember that I made an offhand comment about how even great artists can make boring books. True.

To challenge my preconceptions, I picked this one up again off the stack. And, for once, I decided to look at it back to front, which is my old habit with magazines. Reverse the narrative, as it were. Backwards book review.

Open the back, and the first thing you find is a statement by the artist. Apparently, in 1974, someone organized a photography workshop on Okinawa with Daido Moriyama, Eikoh Hosoe, Shomei Tomatsu, and Nobuyoshi Araki, among others. Wow. Talk about getting your money’s worth.

Mr. Moriyama goes on to describe a place where it was hard to tell night from day. Her senses were on high alert, as everyone scoured the Island for “photo moments.” His experience was so powerful, that he claims, “These were sensations that I could not experience elsewhere… meaning that it was as though my body had, on a celluar diension, understood Okinawa preceding my arbitrary thoughts and preconceived notions I possessed then.”

OK then.

Thank goodness we’re going back to front, because that informs everything to follow. Now, looking at the book, I can visualize a team of photographers, including Japanese masters, roaming around a somewhat-desolate Island, replete with American Military Presence. Mr. Moriyama, compelled to shoot, follows her instincts, and produces the dreamy, grainy, stylized time capsule from the year I was born. (Big ups to 1974.)

When I looked at the book the first time, it felt arbitrary and too long. Now, we have purpose. I notice that the book shifts formats regularly: some images require it to be turned on its side. Then, I see that many of the horizontal format images are diptychs. Some are terrific: an old building, it could be 200 years ago, then the companion image shows the same building, slightly to the right, and a 7UP sign brings us back to the 20th Century.

Elsewhere, we see lots of Pepsi signs, and burger joints, symbolizing the impact of the US Military, and Globalization. There are dogs, and horses, and motorbikes, and cool 70’s cars. Long dirt roads, leading who-knows-where, but always with a person far off in the distance, or close, yet walking away.

Overall, the photographic quality is very high. There are still too many images, but the narrative tightens up quite a bit, with enforced hindsight. Light shimmers off of rain slick roads, kids are everywhere, the perfect subject for the roaming photo army. This time, it’s an altogether more pleasurable viewing experience.

Daido Moriyama: An Okinawan timecapsule from 1974. Can you dig it?

To purchase “Okinawa” visit Photo-Eye

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There Are 21 Comments On This Article.

  1. Thanks for the review. I have one of his books and the format is very much like this one. Perhaps he likes to present his work this way?

    (By the way, I believe Daido is a male, not female.)

  2. blake andrews

    Despite most reports, Moriyama’s gender is in fact on open question. Most observers believe he has deliberately obfuscated the truth in order to lend his photos a heightened level of tension and ambiguity.

    • I wasn’t even aware that there was any question about his gender. If nearly all sources say that he’s a man, then where is the debate stemming from? Just from an admittedly quick search, I can find no reference other than this article to suggest that Moriyama is a woman.

  3. I love Daido Moriyama’s work. There was an exhibition at the Los Angeles Museum of Modern Art, which unfortunately closed on July 29th.

    Personally, I love his Tokyo work better. That’s where his ability to catch uncanny moments in a breathtaking composition comes to bloom. He seems to be best photographing in areas he knows best, like the Shinjuku area of Tokyo.

    Yes, Daido Moriyama is a man. There is a video at the Los Angeles exhibition that shows him at work, how he goes out every day, catching moments. He appears to me in his personal ways and in his photographic style as a gritty and grungy Japanese relative of William Eggleston.

    • Ah, thanks. I thought there might be some JT Leroy-style controversy that I hadn’t heard about.

  4. I’ve hung out with Daido in Tokyo and yes indeed: he’s a man, not a woman!!! Who could ever get the idea that he’d be a woman!??

  5. Referring to Mr Moriyama, who is considered to be one of Japan’s preeminent photographers as “her” seriously undermines the credibility of the author of this review as well as the APE website.

    Perhaps Mr Blaustein should get out of his “comfort zone” and do a little research before writing his reviews.

    • APE website is not credible? you mean not like those magazines and newspapers where the writers make shit up? don’t worry I fired the fact checker and changed the gender so nobody will ever know.

  6. I’ve never understood ”getting out of your comfort zone” to mean that you should try things that you’re bad at. I think it means doing things that are challenging and difficult which is not the same as doing things one is bad at.

  7. He-she-him-her-man-woman-boy-girl — oh baby… I remember reading the author of the review writing his wife was about to give birth to a baby girl. Therefore a little gender bending towards the feminine is not only understandable but to be applauded. That said, this Moriyama book has some beautiful, stark and lonely (to me) photos. What I like the most however are the Japanese characters on the cover — so graphic. The Comfort Zone would make an excellent name for a trendy furniture store. (Call) Can you dig it? (Response) Heh, heh, heh, I knew that you could. — Wolfman Jack

  8. scott RexEly

    The read is entertaining.
    Any inconscequential misrepresentations of the truth I forgive inconsequentially.