Please Don’t Call it Art
— Daido Moriyama.
Moriyama is something of a photography god — in my opinion. His photographs have that honest quality that shines when the camera is pointed at something begging to be eternalised.
He walks fast, from street to street, through doorways and unknown corridors, barely giving others a chance to recognise his presence, stirring notice only when he stops for a moment, raising his innocuous camera to his eye. Click.
Daido has been at this game for a very long time. Now 75 or so, his photographs have been known for more than 50 years and his first exhibition, Scandal, was 45 years ago.
Yet he downplays his work. It’s not art, he says. You hava a camera, you take a photo and make a record. In fact his publications are called ‘Record,’ ie: Record No.27.
When I’m out taking photos, I feel uneasy a lot of the time. “Is it OK to include this in my photo?” I’ll constantly ask, doubtfully, as I consider a shot. The haphazard world is filtered into order through my eye, but it feels wrong to lay claim to so much with my camera, especially people and things that have been designed.
Moriyama, on the other hand, photographs advertisements and shop displays without hesitation, capturing interesting, careful lighting with more interest than randomly occurring phenomena.
Now I’m asking myself what a photograph is — or what it should be. Is it something I’ve made, or something I’ve taken?
When the meal we make tastes good we take pride — but really, we have only just rearranged other people’s produce. Without the effort and existence of so many others, there’d be nothing for us at all. If we take note of the huge scale and effort that truly goes into one meal, how much better would lunch taste?
Like someone cooking a meal, adding his individual flavour and texture to the ingredients, we photographers add ourselves to our photos. We are framing the world in a certain way. We should realise, though, that’s all we’re doing. We’re making a difference, but all we’re really doing is providing the window for others to look through. That’s how I want to see photography from now on. Creating windows.
People develop their character over decades. Places evolve over millenia. We just buy a camera and press a fucking button. More or less.
But this humility doesn’t come naturally to us. We need the ownership. We need to say the window and the view are both ours. We need to justify our existence, make our parents proud (or just approving), impress our friends and reap monetary rewards. It has to be ours to do all that.
There are real consequences to this attitude. I often feel like an imposter or a theif. I hesitate. My vision and inspiration gets blocked.
Although Daido doesn’t spend more than a split second on a photograph, and doesn’t claim artistic ownership, his photos are interesting and sometimes inspiring. If we took photos with a similarly humble mindset it might open us to that world of fluidity and inspiration. Thanks Daido for showing us the way. Sometimes Icons are Icons for a reason.
So here’s a simple thought to turn this around — let’s just be thankful. Let’s continue to steal the rest of the world and serve it up as our own remix, but let’s recognise that’s what’s happening with a ‘thank you’ when the shutter goes click.
I’m looking forward to dropping some of my attachment in photography and changing my angle from creating to capturing. I don’t want copy of the work of someone like Daido but there’s an inspiring viewpoint behind those shots: spontaneity, non-attachment and humility. As humans, these are things we all need more of in general — not least when we take photographs.