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Moriyama & Araki

A couple of weeks ago I went on a small binge of photo book-buying. Over the course of a weekend, I bought Nobuyoshi Araki's Subway Love, Daido Moriyama's Shinjuku 19XX-20XX and the latest issue of Hamburger Eyes. I don't have much to say about Hamburger Eyes except that it's the photo magazine San Francisco deserves.

The Araki and Moriyama books provoked a lot more thoughts for me. These two are both two "gods" of Japanese photography. I might be wrong, but I’m pretty sure Moriyama only works in black and white. Araki uses color, but Subway Love is all black and white. The X’s in Shinjuku 19XX-20XX correspond to 67 and 04; the Araki book is from 1963-72.

Subway Love is a collection of photographs that Araki took while riding around on the Tokyo subway after work. He would use a wide-angle lens, and wait until there was a bump in the train to disguise the sound of the shutter. According to his interview at the back of the book, he'd try to wait until people were yawning or picking their nose until shooting them ("it’s the things that people don’t want photographed that are interesting"). He also relates that every so often, people would get mad and take him to the subway police. (They once asked him "why are you taking pictures when there’s nothing special happening?") It was pretty brave of him to shoot people on the subway – pointing a camera at someone isn't the easiest thing to do – but the book gives you a sense of his compulsion to shoot. Some pages show entire contact sheets, others display a few consecutive frames. You can follow his eye.

click for full page view

So while Araki was in people's faces on the subway, the Moriyama book is very much about surface. The first image of the book sums it up: it's taken at night, of a small parking lot with a couple of rain-soaked cars. There's a pool of water that shows up as entirely black, except for the stark white reflection of a sign advertising 100 yen parking. Another image is of shadows on a tiled building, another shows a thin line of daylight running between two buildings. People show up in these pictures, but they're not really the subjects. These pictures aren’t actually from the book but they were shot in Shinjuku anyway. The first and third pictures are very representative of the book.

It's impossible for me to look at Subway Love without thinking of Araki's later photographs. He became famous as a "bad boy" photographer for taking tons of pictures of naked Japanese women, in bondage or otherwise. There’s a link between the gaze on the subway and his later stuff. He became something of a lecherous old man, but I admire the way that he let his will to photograph take precedence above all other things. Both of these guys have been in my head lately: Araki for more so for his attitude towards photography, Moriyama for his style. There are a lot of pictures in his book that are just flat out blurry, or where the contrast is pushed really far. It makes me want to take more risks with processing.

I’m thinking of not taking color pictures for a little while. Black and white is so much easier to control.

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