New York: Daido Moriyama and William Klein

The urban environment, with its fast pace, constant motion and blur of activity has consistently been a subject for the well-known Japanese postwar photographer Daido Moriyama. Whether contemporary images of his Shinjuku, Tokyo neighborhood or vintage 1971 photos taken during his first trip to New York with close friend and graphic designer Tadanoori Yokoo, Moriyama’s ability to capture the nervous and dark edges of a city and tame it within a raw exuberance and vitality is emblematic of his highly charged visual language. Nearly 40 years since his first trip to New York, Moriyama returned to the city this past week to participate in several events at Japan Society and the Aperture Gallery.

Beginning his New York City visit with a sold-out lecture on November 3rd at Japan Society, Moriyama joined ICP curator Christopher Phillips in a lively discussion that explored Moriyama’s various photographic projects, including his highly praised photobooks, early influences and recent Aperture Gallery re-creation of the 1974 Tokyo performance PRINTING SHOW.

Particularly of interest were Moriyama’s comments about American photographer William Klein, who he freely praised as one of his earliest and most profound influences.

I began photography at the age of 22 – 23, and that is when I encountered William Klein’s New York. It was a huge shock, such a huge impact on me… When I was questioning what exactly is photography that’s when I encountered Klein’s work… It is the one photobook that still poses the question, “What is photography to me.” There is nothing like it. It is an incomparable photobook for me. (Daido Moriyama.  Interview with Christopher Phillips.  Japan Society, New York, NY.  3 November 2011.)

What attracted Moriyama to Klein’s Life is Good and Good For You in New York: Trance Witness Revels (1956), simply known as “New York”, were its gritty and grainy tabloid inspired images and format.  Klein, who was living in Paris, returned to his hometown of New York at the invitation of Vogue’s Art Director Alexander Lieberman. Happy for the employment and the opportunity to secure financing for an independent book of New York photographs, Klein bought a wide-angle lens and set about using his camera (bought from Cartier-Bresson) as a weapon to create a harsh and unflinching view of New York.  With tabloid papers like the Daily News as his visual model, Klein’s New York images scream from the pages as they push the boundaries of prior photographic conventions. Full of high contrast, inky blacks, unapologetic blur and unconventional technique, Klein’s view of New York is unsympathetic and confrontational. It is also ironic to note that this most seminal of New York photobooks by a native New Yorker, was never published in America, but rather in Paris in 1956 with the help of French filmmaker Chris Marker. It found distribution in Japan one year later and had an immediate and dramatic impact on the Japanese photographic community. In particular, Moriyama and his Provoke Era peers responded to Klein’s intuitive and anti-technique images as well as the original and defiant graphic design of the book itself.

In 1971, on his first trip out of Japan, Moriyama approached his New York stay with a fair amount of anxiety. Walking the streets of the city with his half-frame camera, Moriyama’s images resonate with a rawness inspired by Klein, yet synthesized and absorbed through a distinctly postwar Japanese Existentialism. With the book as the primary mode of distribution for Japanese photographers, Moriyama knew that a publication would be the final format for his New York images. Intentionally pushing the boundaries and limitations of traditional image framing, Moriyama’s ’71 New York images, like Klein’s, are dark, crowded and unsettling.  Mostly shot on the streets, in his hotel room, in deserted hallways or under the glare of subway lighting, the overall impression from Moriyama’s photographs is one of intense contradictions as they depict a New York slipping into the social and economic decay of the 1970s.

In 1974, three years after his return from New York, Moriyama realized a highly original and performative method to publish and distribute his New York images. With limited gallery venues in Tokyo, Moriyama rented a storefront and a copy machine for 14 days and created an analog version of what we currently call  “on demand” printing. The books, produced by photocopying his New York images, collating them in different daily sequences, and then stapling them with a silkscreened cover, were entitled, Mo Kuni New York / Another Country in New York (1974). This highly inventive book publishing structure served to further the random and frenetic quality of Moriyama’s ’71 New York images. In 2002, as part of a Moriyama exhibition at the Roth Horowitz Gallery in New York, an expanded publication of the ’71 New York images entitled ’71-NY was created. More recently, as part of Moriyama’s week of personal appearances in New York and the Performa 11 series, Japanese photobook scholar Ivan Vartanian of Goliga organized a re-creation of the 1974 storefront printing show Printing Show – TKY at the Aperture Gallery on Friday, November 4th and Saturday, November 5th.  Setup like a printing studio, visitors could purchase tickets for the event that would allow them to create a book composed from a personal selection and sequence of 20 Moriyama photographs of Tokyo street scenes (selected from  56 options) and encased in a silk screened cover selected from two options. With the layout composed of half -folded pages, the process presented many challenges and unknowns. Despite the best efforts to control all the variables, the end results were blissfully full of surprises.

The 50-plus year dialogue between Daido Moriyama and William Klein continues and will be expanded next year in a forthcoming exhibition entitled William Klein / Daido Moriyama at the Tate Modern in Fall 2012.

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Japan Society lecture and Aperture Gallery photographs courtesy of Jeff Gutterman.

William Klein. Life is Good and Good for You in New York: Trance Witness Revels (1956)
TR659.8 .K54 1956

Daido Moriyama. ’71-NY (2002)
TR647 .M67 2002

Daido Moriyama. Mo Kuni New York / Another Country in New York (1974). Tokyo: Self-Published.

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About Russet Lederman

Russet Lederman is a media artist, researcher, and Japanese photobook collector who lives in New York City. She has taught media art theory and practice at Pratt Institute, Parsons The New School for Design and is currently a faculty member in the MFA Art Criticism & Writing program and MFA Computer Art department at the School of Visual Arts, New York City. Lederman has received awards and grants from Prix Ars Electronica and the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
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