In a recent edition of Black+White Photography, Daido Moriyama was mentioned in connection with a style called are-bure-bokeh. I’d heard of the word bokeh, but not of the other two, so my curiosity was piqued.
According to his Wikipedia entry, Moriyama is “noted for his images depicting the breakdown of traditional values in post-war Japan”. In particular, his photos “showed the darker sides of urban life and the less-seen parts of cities. In them, he attempted to show how life in certain areas was being left behind the other industrialised parts”.
An article on Artsy cites Moriyama’s influences as including “Eikoh Hosoe, Eugène Atget, Weegee, and William Klein, all who shared a similar affection for the dynamics of city life”.
According to Aesthetica Magazine, the phrase are-bure-bokeh translates as “rough, coarse and out of focus”. The approach (which wasn’t limited to Moriyama) was challenging at the time because it was “in direct contrast to the slick advertising photography of major international corporations during the Japanese post-war economic boom”.
Obviously, this translation should not be taken literally. In fact, looking at a lot of Moriyama’s work, I can’t help but think it’s a small joke. The style is very much “in-your-face”. It often involves the subject filling the frame and with a clear focus on what the subject is. There’s not much room for ambiguity. What is also quite clear is that his style is most definitely not
“rough, course and out of focus”.
The majority of Moriyama’s best known work is in monochrome. In an interview with Aperture, Moriyama talks about his feelings about monochrome and colour: “monochromatic photography is conventionally thought of as having more symbolic, abstract, dreamlike qualities. But I don’t necessarily think that just because an image is in color it is closer to reality.” Having said that, he goes on to say that with digital capture, he can make the choice during post-processing of whether an image should be in colour of monochrome. For that reason, he shoots in colour.
In the same Aperture interview, he states that “black-and-white photography has an erotic edge for me, in a broad sense. Color doesn’t have that same erotic charge … If I am out wandering and I see photographs hung on the walls of a restaurant, say, if they are black and white, I get a rush! It’s really a visceral response. I haven’t yet seen a color photograph that has given me shivers. That is the difference between the two.” In the end, as he makes clear, it’s about how he feels at the time he is making images.
He is quite clear that he believes there are no themes in his work. He finds that outside of Japan, this may be difficult to understand. He states clearly that he can’t really think about theme as he is work working as “it is too limiting, and the camera work becomes restricted”. He plainly resists the pigeon-holing as working in a particular area and feels that would be too restricting. As he puts it finally, “with a predetermined theme, possibilities are reduced, and the conversation then becomes one of form. That’s not something that I am capable of doing, really”.
Photo of Daido Moriyama by Sebastian Mayer: used under Creative Commons license: CC BY-SA 4.0