As a co-founder of Provoke magazine in the late 60s, legendary street photographer Daido Moriyama helped launch a movement that challenged the esthetic and social conventions of Japanese photography. Moriyama has published dozens of collections of his work over his five-decade career. The following is an excerpt from his latest book, Daido Moriyama: How I Take Photographs. Co-authored by Moriyama and Takeshi Nakamoto, the book was just released by Laurence King Publishing.

The first thing I always tell anyone who asks me for advice is: Get outside. It’s all about getting out and walking. That’s the first thing. The second thing is, forget everything you’ve learned on the subject of photography for the moment, and just shoot. Take photographs—of anything and everything, whatever catches your eye. Don’t pause to think. That’s the advice I give people…

…[O]ut on the city streets, everything you encounter is alien and unknown. That’s what taking snapshot photographs of the city streets is: you’re capturing the alien and unknown….

Of course, a sharp eye is fundamental. And of course you have to be alert, sensitive, responsive, at ease in your own body, so that you can react to the stimuli around you immediately. But above all, you have to have desire. That desire the photographer must feel in the instant he takes the shot. If you don’t have desire, you won’t see what’s there. I’m talking about the desire you feel in that moment when you see something that compels you to take your shot – it could be a woman, or anything. Desire is all around us; there’s a huge, limitless supply of it. It’s important to be true to that desire. To take a photograph that is at all interesting or meaningful, you must become one with that desire when you press the shutter button…

© Daido Moriyama
© Daido Moriyama

For our first lesson in snapshot work, there’s no better place to start than an ordinary shopping street…Shopping streets are places that have everything, all mixed up together. A huge variety of things, and a huge variety of people.

What am I waiting for [while looking around in a state of alertness]? Well… nothing in particular. I’m really just seeing if something, anything, turns up. I never feel I have to get someone, or something specific, in there to help with the composition. It’s just that, if you wait, maybe something’ll turn up…

I’m just concentrating on the moment. Thinking out each and every instant. How should I take the next few shots? There’s a crossroads coming up, so where should I head for next? Should I slip into a doorway somewhere? [O]ccasionally I think it might be nice if a passer-by walked into the frame. But I don’t obsess about it. I’m just considering my options. Is there a better way to take this? Maybe there’s something in the frame I haven’t spotted yet…

One thing I would recommend your readers do is take shots, lots of shots, of any regular journeys they make in their everyday lives.

— Daido Moriyama

[I]n any shopping street, large or small, rammed with people or deserted, you’re basically taking pictures of the interaction between the people and the street. So that’s what you should look out for. And make sure you pay attention to all the food and other things displayed in the storefronts, and the countless varieties of posters and adverts stuck on all the corners of buildings. But don’t just take wide, vague shots of the road and all the people going about their shopping. Make sure you really look at things, the objects, whether food or other goods, in all their variety…

I’m a little unorthodox in my views. I’ve always said that photographers should put aside “concepts” and “theme” when they go out on a shoot. Of course, I understand young people want to have a conceptual basis for their work—I was the same way, starting out. But even in my earliest photographs, the collection titled Yokosuka, for example, I knew I wanted to take pictures of Yokosuka, but I had no agenda—I never thought to myself, “Right, I’m going to explore the political tensions in Yokosuka” or anything like that. I just thought, “I’ll go and shoot some pictures.” …If you go to places with an agenda [that] relates 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…

One thing I would recommend your readers do is take shots, lots of shots, of any regular journeys they make in their everyday lives. For example, students could photograph their journey to school. Office workers could take shots on their daily commute, or of the shopping streets they walk down every day to get to the railway station. Just their normal, everyday route. Apart from being great training for taking snapshots, it’s a way for them to understand how their own powers of observation affect what they see, even with the most ordinary things. Taking shots over and over again of the same shopping street will do more than teach them how to make snapshots—it will help them become better photographers all round.

By Daido Moriyama and Takeshi Nakamoto, PDN, July 9, 2019


Published by Keith Goldstein

Photographer, husband, dad, and passionate cyclist. Lives and works in New York City.

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