Monday, May 19, 2008

Kagero & Colors by Daido Moriyama

The genre of nude photography can be so silly much of the time. When I was in art school, seeing the photos of Wynn Bullock seemed ridiculous because of their contrivance and tired metaphor (or was I supposed to believe he just happened upon some nude woman frolicking in the ferns? Ah, mother nature…what a set of tits.) I am not having a go at Bullock alone as there have been plenty of others that are much more deserving for sure but what are we really interested in, the tired metaphor or the fact that whether male or female, people are curious about nude bodies. I think it is the latter or that had better be one damn interesting fern to steal my attention away.

Compare one of those photographer’s images with the photo of Emmett Gowin’s wife Edith pissing on the barn floor and you’ll see a huge difference. Both are contrived but Gowin’s Edith isn’t an object controlled by the photographer. She has a life and a personality that isn’t reduced to something superficial (and in my opinion ultimately degrading. Who wants to be reduced to a cliché?). To be fair though Gowin did try those fisheye photos later into his career of Edith and her son lying in the stream bed which should be forgotten in terms of his whole oeuvre.

I bring this up because the recent book by Powershovel Kagero & Colors by Daido Moriyama strikes me as the first book of photos I’ve seen of naked women in nature that doesn’t play the beauty card and in some odd way it is more forthcoming even with its ugliness and blatant misogyny.

Kagero & Colors was originally published in a completely different form as Moriyama’s fourth book in 1972. This version, which apparently includes never before seen photographs, is a beautifully oversized book of full bleed spreads in both color and black and white.

The subject matter is psychologically dark and disturbing. The cover image is of a young woman bound in fetal position with her hands tied behind her back. She is placed (or discarded) onto a bed of damp dirt and foliage. Her feet are filthy with soil as are the cheeks of her ass.

This book jumps from nudes that are warm in tenor as if the photographer is revealing an intimate, loving relationship with the women and others where pure hostility and harm seem to be inflicted. Most of the women are faceless beings which we look upon through the eyes of a lecher whose only concern is flesh and selfish pleasure. One woman is bound with her arms behind her back, rope taut against her breasts and laid out on the floor of a barn-like space as if a captive toy. This photo brings to mind Bullock’s most famous images of nudes and turns the tables on Bullock’s wholesome symbolism. (So much so that I wonder if Moriyama had those images in mind).

Throughout Kagero & Colors you can make comparison to other works by famous photographers. I’d say that Edward Weston was as fascinated with asses as Moriyama and when compared and they mirror one another wonderfully. Not to mention Weston’s photograph of the nude woman wearing the gas mask which has the disturbing element that much of Moriyama’s Kagero work holds. (And what about that piece of sea foliage included by Weston in his Book of Nudes that looks like the loops of some bondage rope? Ok, that maybe going a bit far.)

The one aspect of Kagero & Colors that bothers me a little more than the disturbing photos is that the gutter of the book imposes its own hostility and harm on the images. Most of these 61 center weighted photos get absolutely butchered by the layout of cross-gutter double page spreads -- the book does not want to open far enough to be effective. Otherwise it is a fine presentation of 61 photos from this series in terms of size and print quality.

If the aforementioned Edward Weston is more to your liking then a new book from the Getty Museum called Edward Weston Book of Nudes may be of interest.

This publication is essentially the study of a book mock-up made by Weston in 1953 of his nude photographs. Oddly although 6 books of his work had been previously published, in all only 7 nudes had been included in them. This mock-up represents the book that Weston had designed to address this discrepancy.

Edward Weston Book of Nudes presents 39 of the plates in addition to a full thumbnail layout of all of the pages of the original book that was declined by publishers back in the mid-1950s. The quality of the duotone reproductions here is exquisite with duotones covered in a tinted varnish. The design is credited to Stuart Smith who I believe is the same Stuart Smith from Smith design in London whom I have showered praises on in the past.

Book Available Here (Kagero & Colors)

Book Available Here (Book of Nudes)


Anonymous said...

Clarification please: by "6 books of his had been previously published" do you mean, in his lifetime?

Anonymous said...


I thought that was clear enough -- 6 books within his lifetime had been published by 1953. And only 7 nudes had been published in those. Of course many more have come out since but that book of nudes in 1953 was "to address this discrepancy."

robert said...

jeff: i also see a resemblance to Nobuyoshi Araki in these fotos ? wonderful posts on Japanese photographers lets see more !!

oper33 said...

Moriyama did not like this book and did it as way to fund a trip to NYC in the early seventies. I read a quote recently where he said something to the effect of its not that bad but he hopes it is not the only book he is remembered for.
In the original which we have in our gallery he included several contact sheets which is always interesting to see. I can't remember if this was done in the re-print or not. There is also a limited edition set of playing cards with the Kagero images on them, very cute. Someone once said "I can't say the difference between art and pornography but I know it when I see it." With some of these Japanese photographers I am not so sure I can tell.

Stan B. said...

I always thought of that Bullock nude as a very beautiful CSI photo.

At least it didn't almost make me swear off the female form, as did Friedlander's nudes.

Anonymous said...

Dear Heffie,
I own about 30 Moriyama books but won't be buying this one. I looked at it and got totally creeped out because it just made me want to tie up and photograph Leigh Ledare's Mom..! now if you'll excuse me I have to go throw some bottles onto the sidewalk.

Anonymous said...

Although theres a lot of cheesy nude photograph around I think its quite curious to be generally sceptic about it. The nude as well as the landscape and the portrait and the still is just one of the ways artist have and always will express themselves. As well as Sexuality and intimicy are one of the themes of life.