Daido Moriyama’s Ango and the MM collaboration, reviewed by Torsten Nyström

Ango Daido is the first really successful combination of photos and short stories in the series of photobooks made by designer Satoshi Machiguchi and Daido Moriyama. I write about the English translation, because I do not know Japanese and I am therefore not competent to judge if Japanese scripture, partly ideogrammatic, interacts with photographic images in the Machiguchi/Moriyama output in another way than abstract Latin letters do. But the photographs in this book surpass that possible deficiency in Western languages since the images are congenial with the text, because, like in a news report, they show what the story superficially is about: the horrifying cherry blossom blooming!

Each November since 2014 Machiguchi and Match & Company have published a book intended to “build a new view of Moriyama’s world” through combining his photos with one or many short stories. Number one was Dazai Daido with the short story Villon’s Wife by Osamu Dazai. It is written in the words of a woman trying to make a living for herself and her baby during the war, although her husband, an author, is a drunkard. Like its followers, except for Ango Daido, the book is an
object with a silky feeling and solarized photos on black paper book-ending thick paper with the text in different fonts and sizes, sometimes just one line across the “gutter” of a spread. Interspersed among the text are chosen expressions from the Moriyama icon warehouse, or vice versa.

It reaches the heights of haptics and it is beautiful. But then there’s a choice to be made: either you see Moriyama’s photos as illustrations to the text, and his image of a flying bird (first published 1990), on a spread following a metaphor in the story about
the cape of a coat “flapping like the wings of a giant crow”, falls flat to the ground because the metaphor is not an actual bird. Or you see it as a sequence of photos, running in parallel with the text: sometimes a convoluted strengthening of the wording; sometimes offering an alternative story. Machiguchi writes “My trick is to let two artists, each with his own strong personality, meet and stimulate each other within the space of a book.” But it’s not reciprocal since the text is a given, whereas Moriyama reacts on the story.

Sometimes I get the feeling that Machiguchi’s sequencing is “found photography” from Moriyama’s own sustainable files. From Shinjuku, 1992 and Daido Hysteric 4, 1993, the amount of published images begin to be hard to grasp, introducing a crescendo with the resumed release of the Record series. Maybe that’s one of the reasons why earlier images still are re-used so much (often re-cropped). There’s a future for Moriyama’s archive!

The second book in the series is Terayama Daido with essays from Shuji Terayama’s Life on the Wrong Side of Town: Sports Edition. The reaction of Moriyama to Machiguchi’s choice of Terayama’s text was in the manner of the news photographer accepting an assignment: “Got it, Life on the Wrong Side of Town is what you want”. But the photos were delivered two weeks ahead of schedule; few news photographers would do that. Moriyama had worked with Terayama; he photographed for Terayama’s film based on the novel Aa Koya (republished recently), and Terayama contributed prose poems to Moriyama’s debut “Japan a photo theater”. Terayama Daido seems to address the topic of language in the essay Where are you, my Friend? where the boxing gloves of a deaf-mute boxer is a “substitute for words” and the moral of the story is “To confirm happiness or unhappiness in this world of ours you have to rely on words”.

48 years after Nakahira Takuma’s publication For a Language to Come photography has become omnipresent but still not proved to be anything more (or less!), than a mechanical, chemical and digital way to reproduce the world as seen by a photographer or scanned by a machine. Andreas Feininger and others who claimed that photography is an international language were a bit frivolous with their wording. Talbot’s Pencil of Nature and Tomatsu’s Pencil of the Sun was meant to sketch images, not to write words. But photography is still talked about in international language terms, like the “ant!foto manifesto” (Dusseldorf 2013). And not just language; even people themselves get reduced to images according to Anouk Kruithof, interviewed by Ivan Vartanian in 2018: “Even though it’s overflowing, we all have to speak this new language of images. It’s taking over and slowly we humans will become image as well. This image world democracy is spreading like a virus. Harmful or to be embraced?”

The book Terayama Daido, with it’s words and photos, is an objet d’art that is just as exquisite as the first book in the series, everything is in black and white, but the solarization is saved for next year’s Odasaku Daido, where it is in carmine red paper, like the covers. The author, Sakunosuke Oda, was considered part of “the decadent school” together with Dazai and Terayama. Oda’s At the Horse Races is probably autobiographical according to Machiguchi: “Detached nostalgia and self-portrait” are the themes of Oda’s story and of Moriyama’s photos from his birthplace Osaka, chosen by Machiguchi for the book.

MXM or MM is short for Moriyama Machiguchi. Last year Machiguchi started another annual collaboration: NM that stands for Nomura Machiguchi. Their first book is Ango Sakiko where Sakiko Nomura’s photos follow a tragic war-end story, The War and a Woman, by Ango Sakaguchi. Parts of the story are marked in grey because they were censored for being “militaristic/Love of war propaganda” by the occupying force, but the “love of war” was not propaganda; it was a psychological way to cope with sexual problems for the protagonists. The main typographical features of the book are the same as in the Moriyama series and the photos are black and white, with the occasional solarization.

Sakiko Nomura, best known for her male nudes, has photographed a woman to go with the text, together with expressive photos of nature, an aquarium, an elephant, industrial environments and unmade beds. Most images show what seems to be the
 same woman and that leads to an identification between her and the woman in the story, as if this photo model was an actress. So when a single line on left page states “Malice flickered through the woman’s eyes”, faced with a waist up portrait of the model that looks into the camera, on the page to the right, you halt your reading and wonder: is this the way malign eyes look?

Ango Sakiko was published in Japanese, English and German editions in August and the demand has led to a second English edition. The covers and pages are obliquely cut which makes it easy to leaf through the book from the left. It has a rougher feel than the first three MXM books that featured soft binders. Ango Daido, in comparison, has metallic-looking covers with a cherry blossom pattern in black and white when you look straight at the book, but with a glossy spectrum when you watch it from an angle. Letters are white on pages so black that you leave a stain when you touch them with your naked but clean finger.

As I wrote above, I think Ango Daido is the first successful mix of text and photos done by Machiguchi and Moriyama. Besides the short story series, Moriyama’s extended photo captions in White and Vinegar are partly unreadable in English; they seem to be an early version of robot-translations done by Google.  Ango Sakaguchi’s horror story In the Cherry Forest, Beneath Flowers in Full Bloom is a mint occasion to use Daido Moriyama’s many photos of cherry blossom through the years. Not the Warhol-inspired silkscreen variations in different monochromes from 1975 and not the ordinary colour photos of 1970 that could illustrate a headline of Huffingtonpost 2015: “Cherry blossom tourism makes Japan’s economy bloom”. But the black and white photos, taken around that time and later, of cherry blossom blooming with no people beneath them, a “fearful sight” according to the introduction to Sakaguchi’s story: “in the old times.. cherry trees were a frightening sight. No one thought of them as a sign of beauty.”

Cherry blossom bloom in black and white without spectators among the trees is also featured in Masakazu Sugiura’s photobook Oukakou (2015), and he comments: “This fleeting beauty of the falling petals become a metaphor for both Life and Death in the Japanese mind, and these concepts are not mutually antagonistic.”

Minori Shimizu writes, in Moriyama’s Collected Works 4 (2004), about the “somber, depressive series of ‘Cherry blossoms’ (June 1972) taken immediately after the release of Farewell Photography (April 1972) as if he (Moriyama) tried to fill the emptiness he had felt after the grave ‘Farewell’.” The last photograph of this series is a montage of 24 photos of Moriyama’s own shadow under a cherry blossom tree, Shimizu calls it “the death of Light and Shadow”, referring to the comeback book by Moriyama in 1982.

If you say sayōnara to photography, you still have words.

Ango by Daido Moriyama can be purchased here.


Torsten Nyström has been working as a newsphoto editor for forty years. He has published hundreds of columns on photography and curated two major exhibitions of Soviet post-war photography (APN). Following that, he helped Mark Holborn make the photobook “Propaganda” (published in three different editions in 2006). In 2013, Torsten Nyström published an essay about the Göttingen publisher Steidl for the catalogue of the exhibition “How to make a book with Steidl”, at Daelim Museum in Seoul.