Daido Moriyama Traces the Footsteps of the World’s First Photographer

Inventor Joseph Nicéphore Niépce took the world’s first photograph in 1827 in Saint-Loup-de-Varennes, France. Over 180 years later, in 2008, Japanese photographer Daido Moriyama visited this historic site and documented the trip through his series “View from the Laboratory”—a powerful homage to the medium he’s worked in for over five decades. 

Moriyama established himself as an avant-garde photographer in 1960s Japan while working under Eikoh Hosoe. He captured the postwar cultural transformation of Japan, specifically Tokyo, in high-contrast black-and-white photographs that are both documentary and surreal. He was in the vanguard of the Provoke movement, and continues to be among the best-known photographers using the are, bure, boke style (which translates as “rough, blurred, and out of focus”). 

For the last twenty years, Moriyama has had a large-scale reproduction of Niépce’s View from the Window at Le Gras hanging in his studio. Moriyama has said of it, “This photograph is a gentle, everyday reminder that we should not forget the origin and essence of photography, nor the existence of shadow and light.” It’s interesting to note the similarity between the first-ever photograph and the whole of Moriyama’s work—as if he’s always inherently understood some essential truth about photography. 

His 2008 journey took him on a pilgrimage of sorts to the Le Gras estate and Châlon-Sur-Saône, Niépce’s birthplace, taking pictures all the while. He took a number of shots from around the French towns, images that call to mind Atget’s early modern photographs of French city life. 

In photos taken from within the home, we feel Moriyama’s awe as he looks upon antique objects that presumably belonged to Niépce: a pair of gloves, tincture bottles, a made bed, eyeglasses. Moriyama wanted to commemorate each moment spent there. He takes several shots from the exact location from which Niépce made the first photograph. In this way they’re also mind-bendingly self-referential. here is Moriyama, an artist who has devoted his life to the photographic image, exploring its precise origin through—what else?—photography, advanced camera in hand. 

M.A. Wholey

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