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 and 4AD 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.
Getting your hands on a copy of Farewell Photography is an immensely charging experience, regardless of its status as original or reprint. Moriyama’s rage and horror are intact and undiluted. In fact, that direct access to the original imagery’s gut-level emotionality, no matter the book’s material form, is very much in keeping with the ambitions that the early avant-garde had for photography. It also makes Farewell Photography a tsunami wave that wipes clean all the drecky excess of an oversaturated photo book market.
© Copyright Gil Blank