A Moment in Time

The post-WWII years are sometimes described as “the Japanese Economic Miracle.” From 1945 to the end of the Cold War in 1991, the nation experienced – and sustained – significant economic growth. It was a period that produced long-term financial, social and political change, and saw Japan establish itself as a key destination for fashion, food, music and technology. This rapid expansion was influenced, in part, by the US, which occupied the country from 1945-1952. (In 2020, New York’s Fergus McCaffrey museum opened Japan is America, an exhibition about the complex ties between Japan and the US. It foregrounded so-called “American-Style Painting” and other works that ran parallel to the “Americanisation of Japan” in the 1950s). Tokyo soon evolved into the Asian capital of arts and culture and acted as an incubator for creatives. Its experimental scene was brought into focus in 2012, when the show Tokyo 1955–1970: A New Avant-Garde launched at New York’s MoMA. It reflected on the vibrant spectacle of the Japanese capital and showcased projects by those living in the metropolis. In the US, the city’s fast changing and futuristic scenery sparked the career of photographers like Greg Girard (b. 1955), for example, who arrived in the city in April 1976. “The country was about to become a global player,” he recollects. “Its consumer electronics and cars soon came to be viewed as equal – or superior – to western products.”

There to see it all was Daido Moriyama (b. 1938), a key photographer of the period who used his camera to record Tokyo in black and white. He emerged from the Provoke movement, a short-lived collective of experimental artists who printed three publications under the same name between 1968 and 1970. Their manifesto summarised: Today, when words have lost their material base, a photographer’s eye can capture fragments of reality that cannot be expressed in language as it is.” This was also the overarching theme in Moriyama’s career, who repeatedly told The Guardian in 2012: “What you see is what you get.”

C/O Berlin’s retrospective is an effort to distil the characteristics of Moriyama’s photography. It presents over 250 images alongside rarely seen publications and dozens of photobooks, all depicting society after WWII. Consumer goods, neon lights and street life represent the duality of region, where traditional Japanese culture meets western consumerism. In an interview with The Telegraph from 2012, Moriyama mentioned: “we found the mixture of the Japanese and the Western already there. We just accepted it.” There are some still lives, featuring banal objects. Elsewhere, cut outs and close zooms make compositions seem abstract. The show is filled with dark aesthetics and pictures that are blurry, grainy and out of focus. These act as photographic recreations of visual memory; the imperfections force us to take a closer look.

The show invites observers to construct personal interpretations and decipher meanings from the works on display. As Moriyama famously told SFMOMA: “it is the people who observe my work that give it any kind of meaning. I continue to offer them what I’ve captured with my mind and body.” Whether it’s a crate of coke bottles, a close up of a leopard print coat or a stray dog, Moriyama’s compositions are sure to captivate viewers, not least for their documentation of everyday moments amidst immense change.

Daido Moriyama: Retrospective, C/O Berlin | Until 7 September


Words: Fruzsina Vida

Image credits:
Untitled, Aoyama, Tokyo, 1969, from Provoke #3. © Daido Moriyama/Daido Moriyama Photo Foundation
2. Untitled, 2000s, Labyrinth © Daido Moriyama/Daido Moriyama Photo Foundation
3. Untitled, New York, 1971, from Another Country in New York © Daido Moriyama/Daido Moriyama Photo Foundation
4. Untitled, Aoyama, Tokyo, 1969, from Provoke #3. © Daido Moriyama/Daido Moriyama Photo Foundation