Daido Moriyama
Daido Moriyama, My Documentary Photographs (Eng)
Daido Moriyama, My Documentary Photographs (Eng)
In the early morning of May 18, 1978, I boarded a ferry from clear and sunny Aomori. Going straight to the cafeteria, I sat by the window and drank a hot cup of coffee. Idly relaxed in the blinding sunlight shining on the white tablecloth, the time I had spent the night before, frustrated at my inability to fall asleep at a hotel in Aomori, seemed unreal. For now, it was a second of individual happiness.

On the other side of the ultramarine blue sea, seen from a small window over which a pale white salt had crystallized, a band of low mountains stretching across the Shimokita Peninsula continuously flows into the haze. As the peninsula disappeared and the boat entered the Tsugaru Straight, I took my camera up to the deck and released the shutter in the direction of the ocean some ten times, before leaning on the side of the ship, staring intently down at the surface of the water far below, breaking on the hold of the ship, rippling, then the spread of countless white bubbles, their endless flow. In the straight, the wind, clouds, swells and a cold sharp enough to cut the skin gradually grew; the ship continued on its course to Hokkaido, and the enormous clime that had taken root.

From about that time, a sort of ineffable unease began to emerge inside me, in complete contrast to how I felt just moments before. It was the same gloom that haunts me whenever I take photographs. “What exactly am I? What exactly is photography? What is Hokkaido, what exactly are the Japanese islands?” Even having come this far, these pointless, meaningless thoughts still continued to intermingle.

The surface of white bubbles continues to flow, as always. The Tokyo I had left behind was already far from my mind, not just in terms of actual distance, but also strangely, completely receding, fading away, in exchange, Hokkaido’s cities and people slowly began to reveal themselves to me.

Up until then, I had traveled extensively around Japan with my camera in hand. I had seen many places, many things, and been exposed to many landscapes. Or better said, I thought I had photographed them. However, each time, in some corner of my sentiments, I was always left with an indigestible sense of inadequacy. From several years before, these thoughts had begun to accumulate within my sentiments like dregs.

Okay, let’s see all of Japan one more time. I’m not sure how much time it will take, or my exact intention, but I think perhaps I will end up right back where I started: the sense of inadequacy. But, no, I won’t be bothered by these things, for example, even if I followed the path of a sewing machine’s moveable needle sewing a zig-zag stitch, I would see it again with my own eyes, on my own two feet. Is it not impossible to scrupulously capture each and every image of the outside world (internally) that spills over my eyes like water flowing through the apertures of a bamboo colander? From the capes of the northern regions overlooking the raging waters of the Sea of Okhotsk, to the southernmost tip of Okinawa floating in the South China Sea, from which Taiwan can be seen on a clear day, I made up my mind: I wanted to continue to photograph, as an insect crawls along the earth. It was my one and only interest (document).

It meant that I was actually going to have to deal with the “ineffable unease” and the “decision” I just described, which had always existed within me as a secret discontent. Put simply, I was finally driven (or drove myself) into a corner. All that was left, was to do it, no matter what twists and turns may arise; to over-exaggerate, it may have resembled a sort of resolution. Looking back would be discouraging, and considering the future would be immense. To start, I decided to embark from Hokkaido.

The many photo-archives left by the northern photographers, who, following the survey squad for the reclamation and development of Hokkaido during the Meiji period, centered around the one-legged Hakodate photographer Kenzo Tamoto, perfectly recorded the times and climate of the land; the fact that the thorough archival quality itself had relatively shown the essence (document) of photography was unforgettable. However, I could not expect to see those people’s lives and climate as taken by the northern photographers in my attempts to shoot Hokkaido, but perhaps at some point, I could transcend time and the two would cross. It was with this major premise that I set out for Hokkaido.

The ferry arrived in Hakodate. The familiar Hakodate mountains, like a crab who had put away his pincers, it was freezing. I got on a train to Sapporo via Kutchan and Otaru. Larch and fir trees had begun to sprout new buds, and cherry blossoms were in bloom. With the intention of warming up, I continued snapping from the train window.

Arriving in Sapporo close to evening, I promptly went directly to the Shiroishi ward apartment that was arranged, which was unnecessarily spacious for one person. At the end of various intertwining thoughts and a long journey, for a while I sat bewildered, alone in my room. When I finally regained my senses, I went out for a coffee just to get the ball rolling. I spent approximately the next two hours absorbed in a local atlas, timetable, visitors’ information, and the Hokkaido newspaper.

I decided first to sleep tonight. However, I would be waking up early every day from then on, like a salaryman goes to the office, a laborer commutes to the factory, a prostitute gets into bed, I decided to go out with my camera in hand. My photographs (document / record) can only begin from there. For now, I decided only that I would go to Ishikari-cho tomorrow, and left the café having finally felt some relief.

Outside, it had become completely dark, and was remarkably cold. My breath was choked by the cold. A light purple lilac stood out clearly in the depth of the alleys and darkness of the city corners, in the chilly night air, the faint smell of a heliotrope drifted by. At a nearby market, I did the minimum shopping necessary, and returned to my refrigerator-like room. And there I drearily spent my first Sapporo supper alone, with untoasted bread and cheese, jam, tea and whisky. I took my time writing scrupulously detailed notes in my journal of Hokkaido Day One.

I did not make any particular plans for photographing Hokkaido, I didn’t do any preliminary research. It was the same with all my shoots up until then. At any rate, I went out into the field with only my own arbitrary image. This image I had depicted would, of course, be broken down as I continued to shoot the site (locale).
At that point I would wince with embarrassment, naturally, forced to think. Having thought things over, I would proceed with my shoot. My shoots are always rough on the surface, and are often said to be speedy, but they are different in spirit. As always, I struggle for thought on site, losing my bearings, I spread my roots step by step. For this reason, for this Hokkaido trip I had only flipped through one Hokkaido history book and one photo collection. Instead, I intensively and exhaustively stared at the map. Maps hold something that rouses a vivid imagination.

In most Sapporo book stores, there is a corner with various Hokkaido-related books, which I couldn’t help but want to read from start to finish. But, for the meantime, I controlled myself. Once read, the books would become infinitely more interesting, and would become more than just a simple reference to me. Rather, the fear that they would cloud and control the footwork of the shoot itself, would dominate. I therefore spent the two months of the Hokkaido shoot diligently reading the morning and evening editions of the local newspaper, and staring at my maps as usual. Barring a particularly heavy downpour, I got on the train each day to take photographs of towns here and there on foot.
I thought that at some point my finished film rolls would pile up, so at each site, when I changed the film I made sure to shoot the station name or the location name as a sort of index. In doing so, in combination with my scrupulously written daily journal, I would easily be able to tell things such as where a photo was taken or the atmosphere of the place, the weather and how I myself felt by cross-checking the two.

However, I’m not sure how useful this was in helping my memory to remain clear when I exhibited the 250 or so rolls I ended up coming back with.

My daily routine consisted only of taking photographs. Apart from the few days when I decided to take the day off once in a while, I dragged myself out to shoot. Hokkaido was cold, as always, the wind was strong and it rained frequently. There were days when I whole-heartedly detested continuing the shoot, and a time when I intensely missed Tokyo. Even so, the two-month period was seemingly long, seemingly short, and felt inescapably half-baked. The more I shot, the more the land of Hokkaido endlessly spread out. I was caught up in the impatience and powerlessness, felt as if I could capture a chimera; I was frustrated, couldn’t have cared less, then panicked as I noticed myself being unconsciously dragged along by the newspaper articles: it didn’t seem as if my feet were on the ground.
I had planned to use a fraction of my time in Hokkaido alone, to think about this or that aspect of myself, but in the end, contrary to my expectations, I think I was frustrated with my lack of composure from beginning to end. Thinking back on myself up to then, I think I’ve always been that way.
When I think of that, I feel an abysmal self-disgust, and regret that I need to maintain a little more room to breathe. Perhaps it’s my nature, but I always go from that thought to failure. So, this, what I can only consider a vicious cycle, these phenomena are ultimately the one inextricable way I and photography relate.
In regard to that, when you come right down to it, there is my method of photography and the technique that supports it. It is certainly obnoxious. However, somewhere in my heart the act of objectifying it is, perhaps in my case, the continuance (love) of photography, the spring releasing the shutter.
It is not just self-justification: I think that if I were liberated from this burdensome cycle, at that moment photography and all other things would instantly lose their reality to me. The everyday repetition, like that of the myth of Sisyphus, a giant of a man, painstakingly, is probably the thing that holds me together.

However, thinking back now, I consider those two months in Hokkaido to be a priceless time. Sapporo in good weather, the main street park was peaceful, the lilac and acacia flowers were romantic. The unknown towns, people, forests, lakes and fields were charming. And most of all, the time spent taking photographs was mine only, free from all earthly distractions. The joy of taking photographs absolutely existed, even when I was worried about something.
In the beginning of summer, I was to return to Tokyo. Was it good enough? I obsessively thought about where exactly my work would cross with Kenzo Takamoto and the northern photographers. The answer to that, however, is in the air even now as I write this draft. Of course, there is no immediate answer. But I am thinking to cross the Tsugaru Straight again this coming winter, this time shooting based from the bitter cold Asahikawa.

Anyhow, it’s not hard to imagine the everyday frustration. And then I will probably go again. It is expected that I will need an excessively long time and path, and my sustained emotion lying across great lengths like the islands of Japan, in order to arrive at the southernmost point in Okinawa. However, right now this is my sole interest. In the end, I am sure to end up where I started. All that I can do then is to leave again for another shoot. There’s simply nothing else.

Daido Moriyama