Daido Moriyama, a room

JTF (just the facts): Published by Akio Nagasawa in 2015 (here). Softcover (with stapled binding) available with two different cover options (type A and type B), 20 pages, with 40 black and white photographs. In an edition of 250 copies, signed and numbered.

a room is also available in a special edition (here). Softcover (with stapled binding), 30 pages with 60 black and white photographs. In an edition of 100 copies, signed and numbered. (Spread shots below.)

Comments/Context: Over 40 years ago (in 1974), Japanese photographer Daido Moriyama presented a now famous underground exhibition entitled “Printing Show”. Using a photocopy machine, the artist reproduced images he shot in New York in early 1970s, assembled them into books, and sold them to the audience for just a few cents (the equivalent of $2.50 now). The Xerox quality wasn’t very good at that time; the tone was inconsistent and some parts of the images got lost. But this cheap feeling and purposeful imperfection were interesting to Moriyama – he felt that it was the right treatment for the subject matter of the city. Today, a vintage example of Moriyama’s legendary Another Country in New York can sell for over $60000. The groundbreaking 1974 show was the first of what became many attempts by the artist to explore the intersection of the bookmaking, photography, and performance, and the overlaps with theater, music, and political activism added additional layers to his brash experiments in photography.

Today Daido Moriyama and his immediately recognizable grainy, blurry, black and white photographs need no introduction. His approach to printed matter, developed within the Japanese print tradition, has had a strong influence on many photographers and has opened many new possibilities for photobooks. The increased interest in self-publishing and the explosion of experiments in bookmaking have made the idea of book making performances more appealing than ever. In the last few years, Moriyama’s events were organized in New York, London, Paris and Tokyo. During the events, the participants can select the images, the sequencing, and sometimes the book cover, and in the background, the production team Xeroxes, assembles and staples the pages into unique book copies. This type of intimate, interactive participation diminishes the distance between the photographer and the audience, and brings chance and vitality to the photography.

One of Moriyama’s recent printing shows took place in Tokyo in February of 2015. There are not many specific details available about the nature of the event itself, but it likely had a structure very similar to previous ones – participants could select the photographs from a grid of images and then have them printed on the spot and compiled into a unique book, stapled and then signed by Moriyama. The publication was titled a room (all lower case) and was available in two different covers and in a special edition. While the performance aspect of its creation certainly becomes an integral part of the whole book experience, this particular photobook is itself a well crafted object, in many ways different from Moriyama’s other more casual publications.

A room is a parade of high contrast black and white portraits of women in different stages of undress, all shot indoors and likely at night, in what looks like a private domestic environment. The first image in the edit is a close-up of a woman on the floor with her legs splayed; we can see her white underwear, tights with dots, and the edges of her skirt. Most of the images in the book reveal more than that, but without being overtly explicit. Another photo shows a woman from her back: she wears only black fishnet stockings and her hand is placed just above her bottom. Moriyama controls these private moments and poetically shows us various parts of the female body: many long legs, curving behinds shot from various angles, breasts, and occasionally panties and bushy pubic hair. The faces of the women are never shown, as the pictures are mostly shot from the back or the personal identifiers are masterfully cropped out; the shadowy desire he has created is anonymous, bookended by shots of banal ordinary objects (images of roses, curtains, a cat, cigarette butts in the sink, sunflowers, etc) that set the larger scene. In his gritty seething darkness, everything is erotic, yet the pictures are more about the gaze than any form of more open desire.

Construction-wise, all the pages of photographs are stapled together and completed with a silk-screened cover that has French folds. Each copy of the book features a unique set of images and has a unique edit; this particular copy plays with repeated pairings of various images of legs. The photographs are printed on a very thin fragile paper, which works exceptionally well with the delicate erotic content, adding a physical tactile experience and up close feel. The printing of the images is also excellent, showing careful nuances and subtle shades of grey. To top it off, the typography for the book title and photographer’s name on the cover (both in yellow) resemble handwriting, giving it yet another personal touch.

Moriyama’s innovative performative approach to book production adds a playful theatrical element to a publishing process that is often rigidly (and stiflingly) professional. It brings the audience closer to the artist’s improvisational world, challenging the traditional space between the artist and the audience. In contrast to the cold separation of the digital realm, Moriyama is pulling us closer, adding another level of connection and presence, drawing us into his interior space. This book tells us the story of a single room, a place where bodies come together. It is both Moriyama’s room and any room, the specific and the universal.

Collector’s POV: Daido Moriyama is a prolific book maker, and the specialized secondary markets and photobook auctions are routinely stocked with his vintage rarities. Morimaya’s photographs have also become more widely available at auction in recent years, with print prices generally ranging from $2000 and $40000.

Daido Moriyama, Akio Nagasawa

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