Daido Moriyama at the Michael Hoppen Gallery and in the Exhibition: ‘Another Kind of Life’ at the Barbican

On the 27th March 2018 I visited the Michael Hoppen Gallery to see the Daido Moriyama exhibition there. This was a decision I’d made as I had written about Moriyama in some of my critical review. Although my critical review had been well received, my tutor had some comments concerning my observations about Moriyama’s work. Therefore I thought it would be a good opportunity to see some of Moriymama’s work in person. Then I could make informed amendments to my critical review based upon visiting the exhibition(s) in person.

It seemed that subject was all important to Moriyama, however the high contrast, often grainy black and white medium could not be ignored. The photographs on show still clearly referenced the world they depicted but the overall effect for me was one of disoriented otherworldliness which the black and white medium helped to back up. Some of the photographs were sharp and quite clean (not much graininess) while the majority conformed to the ‘are, bure, boke’ – grainy, blurry and out of focus characteristics which defined the left-wing group of photographers Moriyama joined in the 1960s – (Scaldaferri, 2017). This inconsistency left me somewhat confused; while Moriyama was famous for appearing in the Provoke magazine for precisely these reasons (are, bure, boke), some of the photos in the exhibition went against this trend.

However, what did remain consistent was the high contrast evident in each photograph’s finish which was a trademark of Moriyama’s process. This as well as the disconcerting subject matter (stray dogs staring at the camera, seedy images from Tokyo’s underworld and grabs of American culture in Japan) tied the exhibition together into something weirdly satisfying.

Then on the 10th May 2018 I took it upon myself to visit a larger exhibition in which Moriyama’s work appeared as a feature of many photographers’ work displayed together. The exhibition was at the Barbican and was called Another Kind of Life. I found the exhibition as a whole to be very interesting and eye-opening in places. I enjoyed some features more than others and the one which stood out most to me was Jim Goldberg’s Raised by Wolves. Here he used similar to my eyes strategies and techniques as his Open See exhibition.

When I arrived at Daido Moriyama’s Japan Photo Theatre section, I was surprised to find a very similar layout of the photographs and the way they were framed compared to the photographs in the Michael Hoppen Gallery. I realised later this was probably intentional as both exhibitions were on at the same time. However, I liked the way the frames were all black and they tessellated so that there were no gaps in between the photos. I found this style quite appealing and in my opinion went well with Moriyama’s high contrast, ore, bure, boke look. Again the photographs appeared as snapshots at first glance but the subjects and aesthetics pointed towards something different. Also I found within the context of Another Kind of Life exhibition the work fit in well as the viewer gained insight into the world of people on the margins.

© Daido Moriyama (1968) Nippon Gekijo Shashincho (Japan Theatre Photo Album) from the series Japan Photo Theatre
© Daido Moriyama (1968) Nippon Gekijo Shashincho (Japan Theatre Photo Album) from the series Japan Photo Theatre

I had been aware of the popularity of Moriyama in Japan and that the had influenced a large number of young Japanese photographers. I was therefore pleased to see that another photographer appeared at Another Kind of Life who had been influenced by Moriyama. His name was Seiji Kurata. Although he had been influenced by Moriyama and it was black and white, I found his work to be very different aesthetically. It was much more considered at the time of shooting and the black and white treatment was much less harsh with less contrast. There was stilll lots of contrast but it contained grey midtones and things appeared sharper and more in focus. I liked the work of Kurata and thought he had managed to develop his own style, far from copying the aesthetics of Moriyama but instead using edgy subjects reminiscent of the person he was influenced by.

Seeing a variety of Moriyama’s work in person and some of the generation he influenced left me much more informed about the aesthetics and subject matter Moriyama concentrated on. His photographs were always edgy and the subject was paramount to his way of working. However, he had developed this edgy, distinctive high contrast black and white aesthetic which for me reflected well the state of mind he was in as he roamed the streets of Tokyo looking for a subject which captured his imagination.

References:

Another Kind of Life: Photography on the Margins (2018). Barbican Art Gallery [Exhibition] 28 Feb – 27th May 2018.

Daido Moriyama (2018). Michael Hoppen Gallery [Exhibition] 22 Feb – 7th Apr 2018.

Scaldaferri, G. (2017). Discover The Captivating Work Of Acclaimed Japanese Photographer, Daido Moriyama. [online] Culture Trip. Available at: https://theculturetrip.com/asia/japan/articles/daido-moriyama-the-father-of-street-photography-in-japan/ [Accessed 16 May. 2018].

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Michael Hoppen Exhibition – ? The Image as Question – An Exhibition of Evidential Photography

On Tuesday 22nd November 2016 I decided to visit the Michael Hoppen Gallery to see an exhibition entitled: ? The Image as Question. I found the exhibition to be very beneficial in terms of establishing for myself the question of what is documentary photography. Here are some of my findings after visiting the exhibition.

 

I discovered the layout of the exhibition to be widely spread out over two floors with photographs laid out nicely but varying greatly in size of print. The largest was a print of Max Aguilera Hellweg’s: Pigment Composition Analysis of a Pollock Painting using Multispectral Flourescence and Ultra-Violet Imaging, Museum of Modern Art, New York (March, 2007). I found the quality of the print was excellent as well as the immense size so it was a joy to look at even though I assumed that wasn’t the point of the photograph. I assumed the point was to show off another world that was magical in its own way yet wasn’t fictional but rather still functional. Here, the print was massive yet detailed which helped immerse the viewer in this ‘other world’. The function of the image was to show other methods (special fluorescence equipment) used to prove authenticity in works of art. These processes just happened to be photographed themselves which I found was very interesting as it created in my eyes another world which could also be seen as further art.

 

When moving up to the second floor I found the majority of the photographs to be smaller; one for me which stood out was ‘Prison Staircase, Aushwitz’ – (Simon Norfolk, 1996) which was macabre in subject if the viewer worked out why the staircase had such deep depressions. It showed me evidence of the permanence of the atrocities that went on in Aushwitz and yet at first glance it seemed merely a photograph of a staircase. If the viewer looked at accompanying caption in the books available at the gallery, it was possible to realise the true meaning of the staircase and so the context of the photograph was important. Especially because the photograph was such a relatively small print, it was easy to overlook the giveaway feature of the depressions in the staircase which shown as evidence of something horrible that had taken place (the depressions) within another piece of evidence – that of the photograph.

 

Another example of evidence within a document was that of Valery Khristoforov’s: ‘Cribs, the faculty of journalism of Moscow State University’ (1984). This example was totally different in essence with a somewhat humorous story being played out. Here a woman had passed her exams by cheating (the evidence of which was documented on her legs) but the experience had been in turn documented by a photographer – before the exam! This humorous story/photograph did however raise some interesting points for me for two different reasons. Firstly and perhaps more obviously, the photograph itself brought into question the fragility of every photograph as a document itself if – as in this case – it is the only ‘relic’ of an event which took place. The documentation of her cheating would still have been present (probably for a short amount of time!) but the photograph is the only evidence of it happening at all nowadays and the photograph could easily have never been created or discarded had the girl decided she didn’t want for it to happen or changed her mind later on. Equally, the photograph could have been forgotten or damaged by this moment in time. Secondly, this  particular photograph made me think a lot because it showed something where the outcome was visible before the event had taken place. I thought this was something I might potentially be able to implement in my own photography.

 

Overall I learnt a lot at the exhibition about documentary photography but especially from the three photographs described above.