Frames Blog Federico Serrani

Japanese obsessions

27 April 2023

by Jasmina Trifoni


“The one of my girlfriend’s legs in fishnet stockings. I had taken many of them, consuming two rolls, and then I had it it took me three hours to print them». This is how Daido Moriyama had replied to the interviewer who asked him which one he considered the most beautiful photograph he had ever taken. «Being a photographer», he continued «means constantly fighting with
infinite fragments. The camera allows me to get very close to the subject and capture the details. To my eyes, the world is very erotic. And those socks are a perfect example of that.”

After all, eroticism – also caught in inanimate and apparently banal objects, with which he creates decadent still lifes that cross the boundary of fetishism – is the figure of Moriyama who, born in Osaka in 1938, is the undisputed master of street photography Japanese, inspirer of entire generations of photographers, and not only at home. It is coming soon Daido Moriyama: A
Retrospective (Prestel Publishing, in collaboration with the Daido Moriyama Photo Foundation), the definitive volume on fifty years of his career. It contains, in chronological order, 250 iconic images, from those of a night spent with a lover in a love hotel taken for Provoke which in the seventies was the cult magazine of Japanese protest) to series of images that he had collected, then burning the negatives, in a sort of conceptual performance, in the book Farewell to Photography, up to those stolen in the streets of Tokyo.

Although – like those of the Pretty Woman series – the book contains some some in color, it is evident that Moriyama prefers to express himself in black and white. And it is a contrasted black and white to the extreme, dirty, scratched, where human presences are almost always and deliberately out of focus, in a documentation as wonderful as it is obsessive about the dark and erotic side of existence.

Obsessive, to use a mild euphemism, is also the work of another great master of Japanese photography, Masahisa Fukase, to whom, until 6 June, the Tokyo Photographic Art Museum is dedicating a retrospective, also publishing a volume on his work. Born on the island of Hokkaido in 1934, and died in 2012 after being in a coma for twenty years following a fallen, drunk, from a ladder of a bar in the Tokyo district of Shinjuku, in the seventies Masahisa had been founder,
together with Moriyama himself and Nobuyoshi Araki, of the Workshop Photography School in Tokyo. But, after the first few years of international success, had isolated itself from the rest of the world and was almost forgotten to return to attention only after his death, when his archives could be accessed.
The first, obsessive of his photographic subjects had been his second wife, Yoko, whom he portrayed every day with the telephoto, from the window, just left the house to go to work. In the From Window series (1973), the woman appears while she looks at him, now loving, now annoyed, while she sticks her tongue out at him or addresses what in all probability are insults. After all, their private relationship soon became an artistic obsession. And after 13 years, an exasperated Yoko left him. The separation led Masahisa to take refuge in alcohol and to return to Hokkaido where he produced what is his most famous series, Ravens (1986), in which the crows, also obsessively portrayed in a gloomy black and white, represent at the same time the shadow of his wife and the alter ego of the photographer.

He would later return to Tokyo, turning the lens to his cat, Sasuke, and finally to himself, portraying himself 444 times in the bathtub in a series, Bukubuku (1991) which he himself considered the his masterpiece: «Every shot is a tombstone», he said. So much so, at least in the circles of the most refined connoisseurs, Masahisa is recognized as the father and great master of the selfie, long before this term and, with Instagram, his obsession became too widespread, at all latitudes. So much so that it becomes a symptom of the obsessive-compulsive syndrome compulsive of our times, don’t you think?

Left Menu Icon
Right Menu Icon