Shaped, sculpted and characterised by consistently near-nomadic levels of both travel and movement, the work of Japanese photographer Daido Moriyama has come to not only epitomize the Japanese photographic aesthetic philosophy of Are Bure Boke (rough, blurred and out of focus) but also Japanese photography at large, in which black and white images are still to this day, revered for their transformational, transcendental and iconic qualities. With that in mind, A Journey in Ink was perhaps the most appropriate title for an exhibition featuring the works of such a photographer, with Hamiltons Gallery presenting a selection of large silkscreen prints formed from deep black inks that even in the low, atmospheric light of the Mayfair-based space, glistened and gleamed, revealing their layers of textured and lacquered liquid, taking their respective forms from his precious photographic negatives. Solemn street-scenes hung amongst seductive, monochrome crops of nondescript details— his famous Lips (Visions of Japan, 1990) for instance, large and mysterious with glaring, imperfect teeth. Some were framed, bordered generously by black or white, while others were left nude against the iconic slate grey of the gallery walls.
The silkscreens themselves, much like Moriyama’s work in general, demanded attention and radiated wonder, making for a wide range of readings in their moodiness, scale and contrast. The medium itself, however, seemed to do certain works more justice than others. Tokyo Ringway— Route 16 (from ‘On the road’, 1969) for instance, was nothing less than otherworldly, the inks bringing out so much deep tone and depth that it pushed the image into (and beyond) the constraints of the most abstract art, the gradual gradient into complete black, near cosmic in its swallowing darkness. It is his more famous street scenes however (such as Shinjuku Day & Night, 2000/2008) that suffered slightly, looking almost like bootlegged copies trying to emulate the real thing— the absence of familiar definition in them making them illustrative, as if ripped from an anime volume, devoid of the drama and visual urgency that makes his work seem both so palpable and immersive. What was to be enjoyed, however, was the presentation of the lesser-seen sides of the photographer. Through Hawaii, 2007 for example, humour and silliness were present: a slumped dog sporting retro sunglasses, its mouth filled with dollar bills. A combination of vulnerability, naivety and contemplation was revealed in his self-portraits (Self portrait, 1997) in which the photographer appears to explore himself via marginally different alter egos in each frame. Of course, although widely noted, the influence of Andy Warhol on Moriyama cannot be ignored in Untitled (Lip, 16 times, 2000), featuring a pair of female lips, tessellated across two metres of frame, not unlike Warhol’s uses of both Mao and Monroe.
All in all, the exhibited works and curative choices for A Journey in Ink were balanced in both range and breadth— even for the most seasoned fan, there were new works to discover, and iconic, familiar ones to enjoy, perhaps with a missed opportunity of showing, rarer and lesser shown works from Moriyama’s vast back-catalogue, spanning one hundred and fifty photobooks. Yet, if nothing else, with Moriyama’s work embodying rebellion, dynamism and imagination, the departure to such a medium as silkscreens retains the authenticity, honours the experimentation and upholds the fearlessness that lives and breathes across his boundless works and practice at large.