Daido Moriyama's photos of the 60s and 70s kick ass. Looking at his photos you can almost smell the night, a mixture of alcohol, perfume, sweat, tobacco and marihuana. There is a sense of speed and urgency in his work. His photos are often grainy, blurred, out of focus and either blown out or too dark. Some of his photos look like faxes or a copy of a copy of a copy. In the 1960s and 70s Moriyama frequently shot without framing, from a driving car or as he was walking. His photos were slices of life. Fragments of reality. Legs, prostitutes, narrow alleys, a crashed car. Daido Moriyama's entire oeuvre conveys a sense of romance, a love affair with the city.
Adrian Searle once wrote that one of the worst things you can say of an artist is that his early work is really good, since it implies that all that came after is somehow redundant. The anarchy of Moriyama's ground-breaking book Farewell Photography (1972) still stands out as one of the high-points in photography. I love it and learn something from it every time I open it at a random page. But anarchy can become a style, it can turn into mannerism and aestheticism. What is radical today about a piercing, a tattoo, worn jeans and all the other style elements of 70s punk? Sometimes it takes the opposite for something to be revamped. Nouvelle Vague made the songs by the likes of The Clash, PiL and XTC suddenly sound fresh again. (I've been reading too much Slavoj Zizek lately. I'd almost become a dialectical materialist). Then again, when radical is no longer radical it becomes cool.
Although Daido Moriyama's later work may no longer be as radical as his photos from the 60s and 70s, many of his photos are most certainly cool. The travelling exhibition of his work, which has now landed in Amsterdam, gives an excellent overview of his work. If you can't go the exhibition I highly recommend the catalogue to an earlier exhibition at the Fondation Cartier in Paris.
Daido Moriyama is at FOAM, Amsterdam until 7 September 2006