In 1972 Daido Moriyama first published what would eventually be enshrined as a classic of photographic books, albeit one that, like all such modernist classics, must have seemed an abomination at the time. It was originally titled Bye Bye Photography Dear, and its pages were a direct assault on all the preciousness of American and European paradigms of the form. The images were rampantly blurred, grainy, scratched, and often just muddled shades of gray. The compositions were negligible, if they could be called compositions at all. Moriyama’s pictorial choices seemed to have been made completely at random, and the reproductions often included the sprocket holes at the negatives’ edges, like a film gone completely off its track.
Moriyama’s own recollection of the project contextualizes it best as the timely product of a turbulent and revolutionary-minded period: “Perhaps the authority of the failed negative, with all its inherent possibility, could be restored. I imagined I could construct a book — a book of pure sensations without meaning — by shuffling into a harmonious whole a series of childish images.”
Now reissued for the first time in his own country, a new edition bears some slight changes befitting its slightly more ceremonial revised name. Farewell Photography is a bit larger than its predecessor, with a cleaned-up white cover and matching slipcase to boot. None of the original negatives or prints exist, so reproductions were made directly from the first book, though, curiously, the contrast was “corrected,” yielding much crisper images in full tones of black-and-white. There is no text whatsoever, and the pictures run bleed edge to bleed edge throughout, like a controlled detonation between covers.
With thirty-five years’ hindsight, it’s easy to see the book as the spiritual godfather of the garage-band aesthetic that dominated commercial design in the eighties and nineties, typified by Raygun magazine and4AD Records. The visual aesthetic of punk owes Moriyama a debt, as does every art school naïf who has ever taken it upon himself to boil his negatives; piss in the developer tray; mangle, staple, and tear at his prints; or otherwise molest the mechanics of the medium to achieve what by now are fairly standard results.
Moriyama, of course, has his own distant roots in the avant-garde precedents of collage, Dada, Pop, and so on, but the one aspect intrinsic to his work that should be recognized is its status as a unique reflection of Japanese culture and history. Moriyama’s relation to the Provoke and Gutai groups (the latter having disbanded the same year as Bye Bye was originally published), and his influence on today’s artists abasing themselves in otaku ironies, unmistakably phrase his work as a shattered and horrified response to a postwar landscape laid literally and spiritually bare.