Alison shopping for plants on New Year's Eve

I first came across Daido Moriyama’s work in an article about presets for Fujifilm cameras. It landed with a small thud at the time. I was trying to learn about visual style and wasn’t really receptive to the work itself.

Early winter brought with it a photographic dry spell, so when I saw this book on the shelf I picked it up and leafed through. The photography in the book was a little more compelling than I had remembered, so I bought it.

It’s not a book about technique so much as it is a book about process.

On how he shoots:

“Over and over again, Moriyama pauses in his tracks and just stands there, pressing the shutter button of his camera. Looking round, continually alert, he points the lens towards whatever catches his interest. Occasionally, he holds his cam- era at chest height, and just presses the shutter button, keeping it pressed down, taking one shot after another in quick succession, without bothering to look into the viewfinder. Catching sight of an alleyway off the street a little way ahead, he heads straight towards it at a run, as if already certain of what he’ll find there. I know that it’s not uncommon for him to get through a whole roll of film, 36 shots, in less than one hundred metres. And today, even before we’ve got halfway along the street, he’s had to stop for a few seconds to change his film several times.”

… and:

“Whenever I photograph streets, I make it a rule to walk the street twice - I go up the street, then back down again. The light will always fall in a particular way when you go up the street, and then the op- posite way when you’re going in the other direction, so different things will present themselves to you. Something that seemed quite worthless when seen against the light might seem absolutely fascinating when the light falls on it from the front.”

… and on the meaning of what results:

“If you go to places with an agenda related to what’s going on socially or politically, and try to take shots that underpin that agenda, you’re not going to get anywhere. The photographer should just shoot whatever he observes, using all his senses, and if possible unselectively. This is what I always tell my students, or any young person who wants to become a photographer.'

“I remember once asking Moriyama for a definition of what makes a ‘snapshot’ photograph. And I remember his reply: ‘It’s like a cast net,’ he said. Your desire compels you to throw it out. You throw the net out, and you snag whatever happens to come back- it’s like an ‘accidental moment’ When a photographer points his camera towards some- thing and presses the shutter button, of course he does it with me kind of intention. But the image that is captured in that than instant will always contain vastly more information the person behind the camera had in mind. Any concept or theme the photographer might try to express will be utterly insignificant compared to the amount of information stored instantaneously in the image itself. The same applies in spades for political ideas.”

It was helpful to read that. I’ve often felt much more emerge during edits than in taking, and I’ve experimented with music when I shoot and then edit, using the music while shooting as a soundtrack and then during editing as a prompt or reminder.

As a prompt to unstick me, this was a good book. There are plenty that offer exercises. Sometimes they work but usually they don’t. Perhaps what I needed was less some prompting about what to shoot and more reassurance that it was okay to just go shoot and see what emerged.

Daido Moriyama: How I Take Photographs by Takeshi Nakamoto