About City Drifter

Why does Daido Moriyama still matters in the A.I. age?

Japan is one of the few countries manufacturing high end cameras, filmic consumables, studio lighting, printing and processing equipment. With the aid of corporate sponsorship from flourished photography enterprises and continuous government promotion since 1980s, she has established an international acclaimed art photography culture. Modern Japan photography went through drastic changes after 1960s; young street photographers like Daido Moriyama (b. 1938) neglected the country’s delicate political situation after Second World War and revealed a relaxed attitude towards U.S. naval base occupation. Differed with his predecessors, he shifted the reexamination of Japanese identity from a postwar context to the city’s popular entertainment instead. Tokyo was under tremendous change before the economic boom, entertainment business and marginal underground cultures became a stimulus to city drifters.

By using a candid point and shoot camera, Moriyama produced grainy, shaking, blurred and even distorted images of people, objects and urban environment in the Shinjuku district; these ambiguous images disconnect time and de-symbolize the subject, it relocate meaning from surface significance and drive towards the photographer’s stream of conscious instead. To him, photographs are fragments of reality and not a source of straight information; it should be something vague that transcends the tradition documentary function of journalism. Shinjuku was an urban stadium of human desires, and he turned his predatory and voyeuristic photographic style into terribly vulgar emotional scars. In 1983, Moriyama was awarded the photographer of the year by Photography Society (Shashin Kyokai); his subjective black and white photography can be considered a humanized form of photography which mined the deep consciousness of urban masses. Moriyama is coined one of the most important contemporary Japan art photographers; his influential monochromatic visual style rise to a global phenomenon afterwards.

Moriyama extended his photographic creativity to silk screening printing in 2010s. In ‘Scandalous / Accident’ (2016), ‘Provoke 2’ (2010), ‘Lips’(2020), ‘Tights’ (2020) and ‘Farewell Photography’ (2021) series, he enlarged his early black and white photographs as stencils and reproduced them on canvases. This unique visual craft with streaking of images resulted from squeezed ink is a direct homage to Andy Warhol, whom was a celebrated screen print artist from the America’s Pop Art movement. Apart from black, different colors like red, silver and gold are applied; Moriyama’s silk screen photographs are arranged in multiples or cinematic diptychs; the compulsive repetitive picture composition is an analogy with changing circumstances of capitalistic society awash with serial production and consumption. Harsh dreams from political reality like wretched cars and roaring protestors was fixated into high contrast silkscreen images as lost objects or subjects in ‘Scandalous / Accident’ (2016); this series embraces chaotic rhythms of Japan’s social unrests among swinging 1960s and 1970s and expressed through brutal fact of accidents or mortality. The floating flashes of silk screening are a quick and chancy photo-mechanical process similar with Moriyama’s snappy shooting style; the disquieting traumatic event and tragic car crash re-portrayed with this gestured ink spawned the idea of human vulnerability to the viewer’s psychic economy.

The first Daguerreotype camera was manufactured in 1839 and 2024 is officially marked as the 185th birth year of modern photography. Photographic medium have progressed across industrial revolution, modernization and digital revolution from previous centuries and arrives to current phase of artificial intelligence (AI). The emergence of generative AI software in mid 2010s is a type of simulated photography application based upon neural algorithms and statistically processed data. The global interested application becomes fashionable working tools for amateurs, novices and even professional practitioners; these blue chip corporations thus developed as key players in Wall Street’s Tech Stocks. There is an increasing dependent on algorithms to make decisions and create in the current AI age; a crisis of knowledge regression is perceived owing to human brain downgrading in light of upgraded computer software.

Photography in terms of mass digital consumption and artistic pursuit has reached to a critical point before her bicenturial celebration; it will be thought-provoking to investigate the foundation of the medium through Daido Moriyama’s portfolios in mirror with recent screen based visual culture. The principal difference between Moriyama’s stark monochrome photographs with a new AI generated image is the notion of authorship. The collective Big Data of AI software can automatically re-create professional text, image, sound or videos under the user’s command or desire; exponential probabilities of the computer germinated literature and imageries depend on magnitudes of digital data harvested by program providers. Truthfulness, authenticity, ethical, legal and copyright issues are major debates aroused in the business of artificial intelligence. The user of the AI software is skeptical of being the elite or original author of the generated image since the visual elements are a combination of unidentified sources.

Traditional photographs like Moriyama’s portfolios circulated in the art market, galleries or museums are normally priced under numbered and signed / stamped editions of vintage prints, modern prints or artists’ proofs. Further, the photograph’s printed sizes are proximity to the artist’s ultimate vision of his / her art work. These artistic judgments are absent in the immaterial screen based imagery as the display size and reproduction copies are inconceivable. Physical collectable photographs with full certificates are relatively secured investment than an immaterial one.

Moriyama have side tracked his recent works from analog film photography to edition silk screen printing; this is a habitual form of intermedia exchange happened in contemporary art world. Artists with high aesthetical sense and versatile knowledge of technical feasibilities tend to shape shift their portfolios at certain stage of their career. An elite art photographer often projects divergent visual making directions in passage of time under his or her own independent free will. Restricted by application functions, the generative AI users on the contrary, often ends up in a closed end artistic circuit. Moriyama’s hybrid creativity shattered down the single dimension of the AI technology; with boundless imaginations, human brains should discover their own infinite possibilities.

Text: Blues Wong


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