Although Moriyama's work is well known in Nippon where he is one of the country's major photographers, his photography has only been sporadically and incompletely exhibited outside Japan, and it has not received the full critical congratulation it so richly deserves.
Born in the port city of Osaka in 1938, Moriyama turned to photography at the age of twenty-one and moved to Tokyo to work with the eminent photographer Eikoh Hosoe. Early in his career, Moriyama became acquainted with the work of both William Klein and Andy Warhol. He appreciated their new vision and transformed it through his own personal perspective. The energy and dynamic modernity Moriyama found in the emotional, even hostile pictures Klein made of his native New York delighted the young Japanese photographer, as did the perception of a voyeuristic media culture in Warhol's work.
Moriyama's pictures are taken in the streets of Japan's major cities. Made with a small, hand-held camera, they reveal the speed with which they were snapped. Often the frame is deliberately not straight, the grain pronounced, and the contrast emphasized. Among his city images are those shot in poorly lit bars, strip clubs, on the streets or in alleyways, with the movement of the subject creating a blurred suggestion of a form rather than a distinct figure.
Moriyama's style was also part of this intense period in Japanese art. Much of the work produced in Japan in theater, film, literature, art, and photography appears radical today as it represented a clear disjunction from the past. Japanese artistic production of the 1960s and 1970s was deeply affected by the American occupation and its conflicting messages of democracy and control, of peaceful coexistence, and of the strong American presence in Asia during the Vietnam War.
Radical artists, including Moriyama, sought a firm break with the highly regulated Japanese society that was responsible for the war, as well as an affirmation of the vitality of a pre-modern culture that was specifically Japanese. Thus, the pictures Moriyama took of the American Navy base Yokosuka -- reflecting the freedom he saw there -- and the stray dog near the Air Force base at Misawa acknowledge both the exhiliarating newness of the modern experience and its rawness.
In the early 1980s, his work moved away from the ambiguity and graininess of his earlier photographs toward a bleaker, more distinct vision, as evidenced in the Light and Shadow series.Moriyama stretches the boundaries of photography and peers into the dark and blurry places that scare us. Moriyama delivers great gritty black and white photos examining post WWII Japanese Culture.
His most known picture, Stray Dog, (1971) is clearly taken on the run, in the midst of bustling, lively street activity. The representation of the alert, wandering, solitary, but ultimately mysterious animal, is a powerful expression of the vital outsider. It is an essential reflection of Moriyama's presence as an alert outsider in his own culture.