Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Top Ten Pieces Of Art: 8 - 'Stray Dog, Misawa, Aomori' by Daido Moriyama


Firstly, it is a dog and I like dogs. Secondly, it is a very strong image. Thirdly, this has been on the pin-board over my work desk for a few years, so it is probably the photograph that I have looked at the most. Daido Moriyama is one of my favourite photographers because he has a varied and interesting approach to photography… he has experimented with distressing negatives by hanging them outside and exposing them to the elements, his fascination with surface pattern and structure often goes beyond the image and what it may represent. He took this photograph in 1971.

There are several things about this photograph that make it a favourite of mine. I would not have thought to crop it so tightly, but this is one of the elements that makes it such a powerful composition, a very impressive and solid dog sitting so solidly in the frame. Taken solely on a formal basis, the structure is perfectly balanced and quite stark – it reminds me of the yin-yang symbol with its interlocking black and white shape and to me it references Japanese calligraphy. As an abstract, the picture works, regardless of what it is actually a picture of.

It is a visual haiku – simple, elegant, poetic, implying a transient moment, balanced between the something that has just passed and what is about to happen. A controlled simplicity that yields more and more as it is contemplated…

Moryama has printed several variations of this image. In some, the dog faces left, in some it faces right. I have taken this to imply that the creature is either looking to the future, or to the past. As Japanese writing is generally read from right to left, then the dog that faces right is looking back into the past, whereas the one looking left is looking forward to the, as yet unwritten, future. If it looks to the past, then the harsh light that gives definition to the whole image, and what it may symbolise, could be the very bright lights that changed and redefined the Japanese culture and psyche: the terrible, terrible brightness of the lights of Hiroshima and Nagasaki… a dreadful event in history that must be imprinted in the cultural identity of the nation. If the dog looks to the left, as it does here, then the dog is looking forward to a bright future that is continually redefining the culture.

I also like the expression on the dog. The photograph has been captured at the very moment that the dog has ‘clocked’ the photographer… and the look is not aggressive or threatening, though it does command respect. The dog is old, its fur is matted, it is fending for itself, but it is still a fine animal with dignity and a real presence. It accepts the viewer’s presence, but there is no sense of submission. It reminds me of a quote attributed Miyamoto Musashi, that a Samurai should have, “the hide of an old dog, and the heart of a tiger”…

For more about Moryama, look at the Official Daido Moriyama Photo Foundation website...

...and then go here for info on Miyamoto Musashi and an on-line version of The Book Of Five Rings (Go Rin No Sho) - his work on Samurai philosophy and sword strategy.

and although it originated in the East, I also mention the work of Moriyama in the book Evolution of Western Art

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