Photos by Daido Moriyama
In Shinjuku, Tokyo, corporate salarymen and government officials share the streets with prostitutes, mobsters, and housewives shopping for dinner. Daido Moriyama, one of Japan’s most repected photographers “lives” here; on any given day, you’ll find Daido strolling casually through the narrow back streets, his camera slung casually over his right shoulder.
He draws from the seedy energy that is intrinsic to Shinjuku, which by design or happy accident includes Tokyo’s business center, political center, and the Yakuza’s gambling, prostitution, and pornography industries. “There’s no other place that includes so much immorality. There’s no other place that has such raw power.”
Daido Moriyama’s photographs possess a similar raw power: the out-of-focus, tilted frame, and contrasty graininess lend his photos cataclysmic energy. This is not to suggest that his photos of Shinjuku are records of the place; they’re far more personal than that. Moriyama describes his photography as gestures of his internal desire.
As he explains in his memoir Memories of a Dog, Moriyama shoots in order to connect with his memories: “Photographs are fossils of light and memory, and photographs are the history of memory.” Memory is elusive, and his impulse to photograph the same streets, the same objecs, and same people in the streets of Shinjuku can be explained as the desire to remember.
The four-decade-old relationship between Moriyama and Shinjuku doesn’t show any signs of weakening. We met Daido Moriyama in a small French café—in Shinjuku, of course, on a nondescript, narrow backstreet that only a local would know—to talk about his work and his muse, Shinjuku.
Theme: How would you describe your work?
Daido Moriyama: My photography is about desire. The internal world meets the outside world and takes shape. When [my] desire takes some kind of shape, it becomes a photograph.
In many of your photos, it feels like there’s a direct personal relationship between the subject and you.
There are many desires inside, and I don’t really care about social systems or the world’s view. My photography is rooted in my personal desires, so it is natural that it gets personal.
Your work feels very cinematic. Have you ever worked in film?
No, I’ve never thought about creating film. In fact, I’ve never thought in sequences. I think of stills. I think separate moments are interesting.
What do you want viewers to take away from looking at your photos?
Most of my photographs are taken on the street, of objects on the street. I want to capture the relationship between objects and people. I don’t ever think about what people are going to think looking at my photographs. There are many things I can’t control. That viewers see the photographs in a different way is really important, but it doesn’t influence the work. My message enters the image, but I think it’s good if many messages enter the image, not just mine.
There is a really famous picture of yours, Stray Dog. There’s been a lot of speculation about what that picture means. What did you hope to capture in that photo?
I didn’t mean anything when I took that photo. I left the hotel and just shot the photo. If there’s meaning, that depends on the dog. [He laughs.]
Who are some of your influences?
I’m influenced by Shomei Tomatsu, William Klein, and Andy Warhol.
Why Andy Warhol?
At the end of the ’60s, I saw a catalog of Warhol’s work. I saw something of the origins of photography in his work, and I was inspired. Like using ordinary objects that you find, and giving those objects eroticism is close to what I think of as the fundamental meaning of photography.
Japan has changed a lot since you started doing photography. Has that influenced your work?
I’m not consciously influenced by cultural changes, but most of my subjects are on the street, so it would be a lie not to say that I’m not influenced by it at all. But it’s not intentional. There is no meaning in making commentary on circumstances.
We’ve seen a lot of photos of you with Nobu(yuki) Araki. Are you two friends, and do you see any similarities in your works?
Yes, longtime friends, and there are two similarities: we’re both only interested in photography, and we’re both interested in something “immoral.” Araki is into understanding women comprehensively, and I’m interested in the immorality of objects.
Did you always want to be a photographer? How did you get started?
When I was a kid, I used to always paint, and I worked as a graphic designer from my teens to my twenties. I came upon photography in my twenties.
What would you do if you weren’t a photographer?
Maybe be a painter. I also love ships. I attended a sailing school but I failed out of school. [Laughs.] But most likely I’d be a painter.
What do you think of the younger generation of photographers? Who do you think is really promising?
Younger photographers have a different approach. I’m sure they’re doing something good, but I can’t say who. Ultimately, photographs that show a desire are the best.
What have you shot recently, and what’s in the future for you?
I just finished taking photos in Buenos Aires and in Hawaii. And I just want to keep taking photos of Shinjuku.
What are you enjoying about life right now?
Hmmmmm. I just enjoy strolling around the city with my camera. Those are my favorite moments. And drinking in Shinjuku, of course. I can’t imagine doing anything else; it’s where I feel most alive.