Exercise: a Japanese connection


Read Miranda Gavin’s reviews of Anders Petersen’s French Kiss and Jacob Aue Sobol’s I, Tokyo for Hotshoe magazine.

Read the article ‘Bye Bye Photography’ (AG magazine #38) and research the work of Daido Moriyama.

Write a short reflective commentary about the connections between the styles of Moriyama, Petersen and Sobol.



I’ll start with the ‘old master’ (although I could have maybe gone further back to William Klein, a key Moriyama influence).

Riot, Tokyo, Japan, 1969 – Daido Moriyama

Though vaguely aware of Moriyama as a purveyor of grainy, blurry B&W street images I knew little else about his work or approach until today. A few snippets in the 2004 Badger article really piqued my interest though, as they articulated (several years ago) some realisations I had about B&W surrealist photography in the last few days:

“The most valid subject for the author therefore was one’s own experience, set down as immediately, directly and spontaneously as one could make it. Provoke photographers epitomised this ‘stream of consciousness’ approach to an extreme degree. Technique, even using the viewfinder, was sacrificed for raw spontaneity, the feeling that the camera itself was dragging the image out of the photographer’s subconscious.” (Badger 2004)

Surrealism par excellence! As Badger described Bye Bye Photography (1972), Moriyama had a “desire to be led to the edge of photography’s coherence” (ibid).

Shooting on a simple compact camera, Moriyama pioneered the so-called ‘snapshot’ aesthetic, although most snapshots might actually be of technically superior quality. It seems to be a later eastern equivalent of Robert Frank’s throwing out of the photography rulebook in the late 1950s, only more extreme.

Moriyama’s visual style: gritty, grim, dark, raw, unfocused, grainy, skewed angles, high contrast.

Petersen and Sobol

I’ll cover these together as they are like two peas in a pod, as noted in the course handbook. Indeed, they have even collaborated on a photobook, Veins (2013).

They both acknowledge a clear debt to Moriyama.

From French Kiss, 2008 – Anders Petersen

What they have in common with each other (and most of it with Moriyama):

  • Gritty, grimy, dark, raw subject matter
  • Lo-fi technique – blur, grain, high contrast etc
  • Expressive, emotive, intuitive approach to subject matter
  • Mysterious, generate more questions than answers
  • Outsiders: Andersen’s French Kiss was by a Swede in France; Sobol’s I, Tokyo was by a Dane in Japan
JAPAN. Tokyo. 2007
Tokyo, 2007 – Jacob Aue Sobol

Some specific points on each:

  • Andersen’s people shots often obscure faces – anonymity, or using people as blank canvases? – while Sobol uses a more straightforward portraiture approach
  • Andersen’s use of nudity comes across as more about taboo/transgression than sexuality; Sobol’s nudes, like many of Moriyama’s, are more erotically charged
  • Sobol went in for a lot of close-ups, often obfuscating the subject

As an aside, Petersen came up with a fantastic justification for using B&W that I will add to my earlier post about why B&W is used for documentary photography:

“In black and white you are not caught by the colours, you have your own fantasy and experiences and they are all in colours. So unintentionally you add colours to the black and white photograph.” (FK Magazine, 2012)

I read this as you (the viewer) bring your own experiences to the image to ‘add the colour’. It’s a marvellous way of describing the more engaging, thoughtful experience of ‘processing’ B&W images.


There is clearly a triangulation between the work of these three photographers, with Moriyama at the top. I find the aesthetic visually appealing but am not entirely sure to what extent it can be an influence on my own work without becoming pastiche.

Beyond the aesthetic, what I like about all three of these is the highly intuitive way of shooting. Truly surreal art in the real sense of the word – bypassing cognition.


http://www.oca-student.com/resource-type/frenchkiss (accessed 12/05/2016)

http://www.anderspetersen.se (accessed 12/05/2016)

http://www.oca-student.com/resource-type/tokiosobol (accessed 12/05/2016)

http://auesobol.dk (accessed 12/05/2016)

http://www.oca-student.com/resource-type/gbadgersayonara (accessed 12/05/2016)

http://www.moriyamadaido.com/english/ (accessed 12/05/2016)

http://fkmagazine.lv/2012/01/30/interview-with-anders-petersen/ (accessed 12/05/2016)

Higgins, J. (2013). Why it Does Not Have to be in Focus. Modern Photography Explained. Farnborough: Thames & Hudson.


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