Daido Moriyama's Retrospective: Exploring Dialogues with Andy Warhol's Legacy

Daido Moriyama's ongoing retrospective at the Photographer’s Gallery offers a captivating overview of the body of work that shaped avant-garde photography in the 1980s and 1990s across Japan, Europe, and America. Featuring over 200 works from the mid-1960s to the present day, the exhibition chronicles the evolution of the iconic Japanese photographer's thinking about the medium.

Moriyama's interest in blurry, grainy, and high-contrast techniques has inspired photographers worldwide to reject conventional aesthetics and push the boundaries of what is considered acceptable within the medium. One of the many intriguing aspects of Moriyama’s practice that unfolds throughout the exhibition is his dialogue with the legacy of Andy Warhol. In this article, we focus on the relationship between Moriyama’s photographs and Warhol’s silkscreens, looking closely at the celebrity culture, appropriation and mass-circulated imagery as themes that unite these two diverse bodies of work. 

Exploring Vulnerability and Power

Daido Moriyama embarked on his photographic career in 1964, amidst the cultural surge accompanying the Tokyo Olympics. The trend within advertising agencies at the time to hire a growing number of photographers turned the camera work into a coveted profession. Working in a period that saw the flourishing of mass culture, Moriyama questioned the medium of photography: the grain, blur and monochrome of his images laying bare vulnerability to manipulation against the camera’s inherent claims to truthfulness.

Far from a neutral act, being seen by the camera implies questions of control and power in Moriyama’s work. “Apartment” (1967) captures a housing development corridor in Tokyo, where a slightly ajar door reveals a female face in shadows, evoking a sense of fear and insecurity.  This is one of the many examples of Moriyama’s photographs rejecting the clarity of vision to seek ‘in the ordinary daily life of people and practically defenceless subjects, the atmosphere of danger released the moment they cross the camera’s viewfinder’1. Experimentation with surfaces and image layers offered the artist another way of exploring this dynamic.

Appropriating News Imagery

Moriyama’s approach to photography was unique in that he used it to reproduce existing images and, much like Andy Warhol, saw the process of repetition as a means to ask profound questions about the nature of seeing. He was the first artist to reproduce images in photographs at the time when Andy Warhol appropriated images from newspapers to render them in paint and silkscreen. Moriyama appropriated posters and cheaply printed pages from magazines, creating a film noir effect that anticipated contemporary discussions about the use of surveillance cameras and limits they pose to society's freedom. Creating a sense of alienation through low-key lighting and harsh contrasts between light and shadow, the film noir effect offered Moriyama exactly the kind of language he needed to expose the traps and pitfalls of modern society.

Looking at Warhol’s "Death and Disasters” series alongside Moriyama’s photographs of car accidents reveals how artists, despite working in different media and distant parts of the globe, shared a fascination with a particular type of mass-circulated imagery. In "Crash from Accident 6," Moriyama rephotographed the picture from a road-safety poster, utilising its original high contrast to create an atmosphere of terror. Portraying an event rapidly becoming history, it seems Moriyama was interested in a moment when survivors and passers-by process the abruptness and irreversible nature of change happening around them. 

The work was clearly influenced by Warhol’s “Accident” (1963) silkscreens, exploring themes of disaster and death through the image of a destroyed car repeated fourteen times. Moriyama’s interest in these works is all the more interesting considering that in 1960s America, Warhol’s disaster images were mostly unsellable, as collectors and critics pronounced them too bleak.2 While both artists turned to the image of a car crash, Warhol's approach appears to be focused more on the sensational aspects of accidents – our ability to empathise with the situation once it’s turned into news and becomes an object of the spectator’s gaze. Both “Car Crash” and “Accident” question media narratives and the detached ways in which they tend to be consumed.

Celebrity Culture and the Artifice of Identity

Featuring images of TV screens and reproducing photographs from newspapers, Moriyama’s works reveal his desire to challenge the images we project onto the world and, in turn, the world projects onto us. Just like Warhol’s screen-prints of Marilyn, Jackie Kennedy or Liz Taylor turn the female face into the endlessly reproducible archetype of a stardom, Moriyama’s photographs explore the distance between real people and their representation in media. His early work “Scandal” (1969) configures the image of a celebrity under constant surveillance by reappropriating the photograph of Japanese-Indonesian businesswoman Dewi Sukarno from the newspaper page. Emphasising halftone patterns, the photograph captures the artificiality of images through which we construct our identities and positions the appropriated image as a barrier between the viewer and the real person beyond the frame.

 The Streets of New York

During his first-ever trip to New York in 1971, Moriyama captured buildings, neon signs, passers-by, and hotel rooms endlessly repeating themselves. His dark and grainy images, characterised by snapshot compositions and slanted viewpoints, often taken without looking through the viewfinder, enveloped Manhattan in an air of mystery. Rather than emphasising clarity, Moriyama chose to reflect the city as a subjective, personal experience. He commented on his impressions of the city: ‘New York is filled by a vague scent of mescaline, while the smell of Andy Warhol is billowing out of every street.’3

In 1972, Moriyama published a New York portfolio in Asahi Camera, and by 1974, he was invited to showcase his work at Shimzu Gallery in Tokyo. Departing from traditional gallery displays, Moriyama introduced a rented photocopier into the gallery space. The culmination of this innovative approach was "Another Country in New York," where he combined various sets of photocopied images, allowing visitors to choose from two screen-printed cover designs. This informal and interactive method mirrored some of the Pop Art strategies he admired in contemporary American practitioners.

There is a vivid connection between Moriyama and Warhol’s works: they share the fascination with mass media imagery, the repetition of images, turning to the pages of newspapers to expose the artificial surfaces that shape our way of looking at the world. Through their shared themes and approaches, Moriyama and Warhol have left a lasting mark on the world of art, challenging perceptions and the understanding of society, celebrity, and the urban experience.


Daido Moriyama, quote from the exhibition

2 In 2013, Warhol’s Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster) sold at Sotheby’s for $105 million. For more, read Erika Doss, Spiritual Moderns: Twentieth-Century American Artists and Religion, p. 225.

Daido Moriyama, quote from the exhibition


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