In his ninth decade, at age 82, Daido Moriyama keeps on trucking. If anything, he seems busier than ever. Working with his gallerist and publisher, Akio Nagasawa, in this last pandemic year he’s put out Record No. 45; released the eighth of his series of older photos grouped by subject or theme and placed between luscious covers of silk-screened photos; and according to Simon Baker, curator of the Maison Européenne de la Photographie, Daido and Nagasawa designed every inch of an ongoing show, devoted to both Daido and his brilliant mentor Shomei Tomatsu, at the celebrated photography center in Paris.
Oh, and as Baker recently said in a webinar about the show, when he last met Daido a couple years back, for all his illustrious reputation, all Daido really wants to do each day is go out and take photos. Snap, snap, snap.
Along with all the above busyness, this year Akio Nagasawa has published a new version of Daido’s masterpiece, “Bye Bye Photography,” which for the first time has presented the extant photos from the original 1972 book not divided by the gutter mid-page but laterally so you can easily see the whole photo as it was shot.
Recently I bought copies of Record No. 45, one of the latest in the silk-screen books, “Kanban,” as well as this new “Bye Bye Photography.” With these three works sitting next to me, it’s a good time to look again at Daido Moriyama.
For photographers who can’t stay home, well, they take a lot of pictures, and it’s always a question of how to get those shots out to the public. The best way, as Daido has found (and more recently the American photographer Matt Eich) is to surround your major book releases with an ongoing series of work put out as it gets finished. Daido’s Records go back to the summer of 1972, the same year as “Bye Bye Photography,” and from the beginning have recorded his wanderings. The first edition is only 16 pages, including the covers, and is very much in the spirit of his most Provoke-like photos, rough, blurry, out of focus, as the refrain goes. Ditto the next four Records, released as a Reprint Edition in 2008, and well worth owning. They fulfilled Daido’s idea of “a small, self-published personal photo journal.” As he further explains, “Without any ties to work or any fixed topic, I just wanted to continue publishing a 16-page booklet with an arbitrary selection of favorite photos among the pictures I snapped from day to day. By nature, it was directed first and foremost to myself rather than other people. I wanted a simple, basic title, so I called it 'Kiroku' (Record).”
The Records resumed in 2006 with No. 6, and the style of that and all the subsequent Records reflect what Daido was up to at the time. Those “favorite photos” from day to day. From No. 6 to the present the shots have been far less Provoke-like and much more representative of the world his eye sees. Some have been in color, though most are black and white in that high-contrast style he deploys so well.
The latest, No. 45, holds a special place in the whole series. As Daido explains, “Around the middle of the year , I got slightly ill, and eventually spent some time in hospital, after which I got to stay at my home in Zushi. Except for some business and a rehabilitation program that I did in Tokyo, I spent most of the days that followed walking in the streets and taking the occasional snapshot in the Shonan area.
“But there’s one particular thing about Zushi / Shonan. It is for me a location that necessarily reminds me of Takuma Nakahira. Now that I was staying in Zushi for the first time in years, quite naturally there were various opportunities for me to reminisce about my days with Nakahira, which is already more than 50 years ago.”
At the same time Daido was reading a book of Nakahira’s reviews, and so spent his evenings silently debating his departed dear friend, then heading out to the streets to take photos to continue that dialogue. Record No. 45 is all-Daido, mannequins, a strange clown face projected on a store window, the stark angles of a parking garage, and it’s also very 2020 with people in masks and girls lost to their iPhones. There are also snaps with the spirit of Nakahira’s masterpiece, “For a Language to Come”: a blur here, a patterned wall there. The volume is fully Daido’s, but especially intriguing since it’s also this communion with his self-stated mentor.
By my best calculation, the series of books issued with those great silk-screen covers began in 2013 with a two-version reprint of Daido’s “Another Country in New York,” the work that he famously custom-made in a copy shop back in 1974. The series really took off with “Pantomime” in 2017, and is now up to number eight, “Tiles in Aizuwakamatsu.” I have a number of these themed works; indeed, during my trip to Tokyo in 2019 I went to the Akio Nagasawa gallery in the Ginza district, which was wallpapered with giant Daido lips photos, and so of course I bought “Lips.” There’s also “Plastic Love,” devoted to his mannequin shots, “Tights in Shimotakaido,” full of photos of women’s legs in tights. I haven’t yet sprung for “Tiles in Aizuwakamatsu” because, well, it’s nothing but shots of tiles, but I did get “Kanban,” filled with black-and-white and a few color photos of signage around the world.
“Kanban” is classic Daido, every poster-festooned wall or street-level assemblage of signage fascinating. The book itself is a joy to read, not only all the great photos but every few sheets in, the page folds back to uncover a double-sized spread. These are dense photos, collage-like with their abundance of street signs and photos on billboards, yet mysterious, too. (They remind me of Robert Rauschenberg at his strongest.) No photographer fills a frame with better signs than Daido, from giant heavily-lipped models glowing along the street, to a stern-looking Steve McQueen on a well-ripped poster amidst of timeless sea of other well-ripped posters, to a red silhouette of a hands-on-hips woman next to a sign that reads “Red Hot Mama” above a red-chartreuse locked door. Daido even sneaks in a self-portrait of himself shooting into a mirror next to a huge poster of Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter in Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland.”
I also simply love the feel of the silk-screened covers, on roughly pebbled cloth, photos printed in rich blacks and whites. Among their own intrinsic joys, the covers take me back to the fun I had at Aperture’s 2011 Printing Show—TKY, in which everyone there compiled their own Daido book, which was then hand-stapled in a silk-screen cover by a swarm of minions, then signed by the master himself.
Which brings me to this reissue of “Bye Bye Photography.” The original book is arguably one of the most important photobooks in history, right up there with such epochal works as Robert Frank’s “The Americans,” William Klein’s “New York,” and Diane Arbus’s Aperture Monograph. It’s no exaggeration to say that photography jumped forward upon the book’s publication, and as it became better known around the world truly changed things. The book is all the more fascinating because it’s driven by Daido’s desire to exhaust photography, to push the medium as far it could go.
I’m fortunate enough to own a first printing of the 1972 book. One of the reasons we love photobooks is that the best can have powerful force simply as objects. They’re not just a collection of photos, the books themselves radiate the singular magic of art. I first learned this when I bought my first expensive photobook, Brassai’s “Paris de Nuit.” The one from 1933 with black gravure ink so thick it’s like it was laid on with a trowel. With bursts of light so intense it’s as if the whole book is plugged into an electric current. The blacks as stark as the nights they chronicle, the whites glowing as if filament bulbs ripple through the paper. The original book captures truly mystical incarnations of photographs; further printings are just inert pictures.
I have the same feeling with the original “Bye Bye Photography.” It’s a totemic presence; I open it with a sense of mystery, care, respect, even caution. Simply, this book has the power to change lives—indeed, it’s changed mine. I was ready to shoot in a way inspired by Daido even before I discovered him, but afterward … well, I knew then that anything I printed on a sheet of paper was fine and dandy.
I just pulled the original off my shelves. It’s an inch-thick heavy block of a book. Open it, and there’s photo after photo of indistinct blur, flurries of images, strange movie stills, shots of Tri X Pan Film (not prints from a roll of the film, the actual film itself, sprocket holes and all). There are photos messed-up in the camera, and there are photos nearly destroyed in the development and/or printing. I’d say roughly sixty-five percent of the photos have something recognizable in them, the rest are that purest essence of photography: nothing but an ever intriguing mix of light and dark.
It’s also a tough book to read, the photos laid out in no discernible order, and the content as rich and complex and personal (and nearly unreadable) as Joyce’s “Finnegan’s Wake” or Ezra Pound’s “Cantos.” O.K., maybe that’s unfair. Maybe Daido’s book is more like “Ulysses,” groundbreaking in style but exhilarating to read. Or maybe “Bye Bye Photography” is really a work of Beat literature. It’s known that Daido has read Kerouac’s “On the Road” over and over, and “Bye Bye Photography” is certainly a road book, a number of shots taken from cars or trains; and even when the photo is a close-up of a person’s face, it’s usually so distorted as to be simply a vision of that soul hurtling past.
There are bottomless wonders in “Bye Bye Photography,” and every time I look at the original I find my sense of photographic possibility expanding. One reason: None of the photos are very clear; indeed, they’re hardly photos at all. Some could be anything, which means I can photograph anything, too.
Now we have this new edition. As I noted above, the new version lays out each photo laterally and fully, with a small white border around it (as opposed to the original’s full-bleed shots stretched across two pages). This makes the photos feel more as if they’re hanging on a gallery wall. The new book is also printed on thin and slightly glossy paper; the paper in the original is much thicker with far less shine. The photos in the new book are much crisper, too, which is interesting because for me it goes against the spirit of the original work. Finally, we’re confined to those photos from still extant original negatives, as well as some others Daido discovered from that time period that didn’t make their way into the original book.
All this makes the new version feel like a redux version of a great movie, as Francis Ford Coppola’s been doing with “Apocalypse Now” and “Godfather III,” cutting them differently, throwing in scenes that didn’t make the first theatrical releases (and arguably slow the film down). Those are different movies from the classic version, and the new “Bye Bye Photography” is a different book, for better or worse.
Of course good luck finding an original, or affording it. There have been numerous reprints, and for budgetary purposes the 2009–10 pocket book–sized editions of Daido’s classic books published by Kodansha can get you a few steps closer to the original book experience. One of the selling points of the new Akio Nagasawa version is that there is no gutter cutting the photo in half. Interestingly, in the original the binding is such that each page opens fully and lies flat, thereby letting you see the whole photo. That’s not the case for the latter reprints.
So the new version does serve a purpose. It also has one of those luscious silk-screen covers as with the handmade book series that includes “Kanban”; and while I adore the silk-screen covers (and wish I could drape all my own photobooks in them), here in the case of “Bye Bye Photography” it takes away from the force of the book as an actual book. In a sense it’s just another addition to Daido’s ongoing series.
Which is fine. “Bye Bye Photography” is one of those few books I want to own multiple editions of, like “The Americans” and “Ravens.” Books so rich and essential that even the slightest variations of ink flow or cropping, as in the various copies of Robert Frank’s masterpiece, are worth looking at and enjoying.
Like collecting different pressings of great LPs, which I’ve also been known to do. Which lets me segue into my title for this piece: “So Long Photography, Hello East Orange.” That’s a play on Bob Dylan’s second recorded original song, “Talkin’ New York,” on his debut album back in 1961. The idea being that back then Dylan might’ve given up on New York City, but he didn’t stay away for long, keeping on coming back till he created some of the greatest songs in his oeuvre. And that even if Daido meant it in 1974 that he was giving up photography, he never even began to stop.
I’ve always thought there are a lot of similarities between the two artists, their brilliant, coruscating imagery; their roots in Beat culture; their quasi-outlaw poses, but a new reason to tie them together is their longevity. They’re both still crankin’ out the work, Dylan with one of his greatest albums ever at the age of 79, “Rough and Rowdy Ways,” and Daido with his endless parade of books, including the new Record and the new silk-screen books at the age of 82, not to mention the masterwork of all-new color photos, “Pretty Woman,” from only four years back.
Blessed us, that Daido just keeps on going. That all he wants to do each day is go out and take new snaps.
A selection of Daido Moriyama books can be purchased here.
Robert Dunn is a writer, photographer, and teacher. His latest novel is Savage Joy, inspired by his first years in NYC and working at The New Yorker magazine. His photobooks OWS, Angel Parade, Carnival of Souls, and New York Street are in the permanent collection of the libraries of the Museum of Modern Art and the International Center of Photograph (more info on Dunn’s own photobooks here; prints of his work can be ordered here, follow his instagram here). Dunn also teaches a course called “Writing the Photobook” at the New School University in New York City.