Daido Moriyama: How I Take Photographs

In an excerpt from the new book on Japan’s leading photographer, Takeshi Nakamoto asks – who is the real Daido Moriyama?

‘Oh come on, get real….’ In the ten years I’ve known him, I’ve noticed Moriyama has a habit of saying this – then giving a dismissive snort. I’ve heard him come out with it on all sorts of occasions, and I realise now that it’s the photographer’s way of demonstrating that he thinks the person he is talking to is being ridiculous. Some upstart (like myself, for example) will be mouthing off about something, or making some crazy request, and rather than putting them down with something stronger like ‘That’s total crap!’, he’ll come out with this expression.

‘I’ve never felt that I should conform to any particular set of rules – and not just in photography. I have no truck with what passes for the normal way of doing things….’

Moriyama steers clear of any preconceptions in snapshot photography and he has a similar aversion to rules, standards or normal practices in any area of life. You might say that, for him, the only criterion is that there should be no criteria. And when it comes to photography, it’s clear that many things that are generally regarded as common sense are, for Moriyama, non-sense.

Perhaps the best example of this would be the idea of originality – which he rejects out of hand. As someone who has always held that photography has never been anything other than mere copying, it’s a lost cause, he thinks, to try to argue for the originality of a photograph. Hence his lack of compunction about taking shots of posters he happens to see in the street – even when that poster contains an image by another photographer. He makes no bones about publishing it either. All he is doing, he says, is taking a copy of something that is itself already a copy.

‘I’ve even considered doing away with the copyright symbol from my own photo books. Of course, the publishers would object, there’d be all sorts of problems. But basically I think everyone should be free to copy anything they want to. What else is a photograph but a copy to begin with? When I hear people getting all hot under the collar, making the argument for photographs being original, being “art”, and so on, I always think to myself, “Oh, come on, get real….”’

A person of evident conviction, the thing to which Moriyama is clearly most committed is his own desire. The snapshot epitomizes this desire. A spur-of-the-moment shot that he takes the instant that he feels the urge. Point and shoot, point and shoot. Simply, without thinking.

But, of course, there is another Daido Moriyama: the Moriyama who in Sunamachi stares into the viewfinder lost in thought, the Moriyama who on our highway photo shoot feels compelled to interrogate what he is doing. This Moriyama is definitely not so simple, and is more open-ended.

In this scrupulous commitment to his desire, Moriyama never stops questioning the world he is shooting, never stops questioning the photographs he takes, and never stops questioning the self that is trying to take those photographs – even as he relentlessly continues to do so. The questions he asks go on well beyond that tiny split second – the 1/250 of a second – in which the shutter opens and closes. In every shot he takes, in that one brief moment, there lies an eternity of questions, and conflicting points of view, and journeys back and forth. Small wonder, then, that he refuses to waste his time or energy fretting about common sense or convention.

Excerpt from Daido Moriyama: How I Take Photographs by Daido Moriyama and Takeshi Nakamoto, published by Laurence King