Book Review: Daido Moriyama How I Take Photographs

Is it snapshot photography or street photography? We find out in Daido Moriyama’s new book How I Take Photographs.

How I Take Photographs is an insight into the workflow and creative thinking of Daido Moriyama. Divided into six sections, readers are given an introduction to “snapshot photography,” taken to five shooting locations, and allowed a look at the “real Daido Moriyama.” I wanted to like this book, but I’m struggling to detach from the persistent question “where does this belong in 2019?” Conflicted, I keep returning to the book, and doing my best to connect with the objective of both the author and the publisher. How I Take Photographs isn’t bad, but I feel it’s struggling to find its place in the photobook world. Let’s take a closer look.

How the Book Looks and Feels

When I first unpackaged the book and felt it in my hands, my response was “that’s nice.” The feeling I got was nothing special. It has a minimalist layout which does make it initially attractive. However, the paperback, glossy feel was a let down for me. It’s also disappointing to see photos across a two-page spread, as with this book the photos are then left bent with a huge line running down the middle of them, resulting in the photo completely losing its impact. This isn’t Steve (fictional character) who knows a thing or two about taking photos and comes out with a book, it’s Daido Moriyama. For his prestige and contribution to street photography, I wanted to feel something more premium in my hands.

“I wanted to like this book, but I’m struggling to detach from the persistent question “where does this belong in 2019?”

Snapshot Photography Vs Street Photography

Honestly, when I read the term Snapshot Photography my heart sank. Snapshots are something your mom takes on her vacation and then subjects you to, with each and every one accompanied by a dull anecdote, leaving you thinking “I knew I shouldn’t have come to visit.” Street photography goes way beyond that. Street photographers look deeper and find narratives in places the average person with a camera doesn’t. And yes, in fairness, Moriyama started shooting on the streets before anybody knew what the act really was, so calling it Snapshot photography may have been the in thing to do. But things have evolved since then, and I was hoping to read a reflection of that in this book. The intention could be to have the book appeal to the every day Instagram photographer who wants to take better shots for their feed. In today’s climate, it makes good business sense to run with this angle, but the photographer we’re dealing with here is far above that.

The Text

The book was created with the support of Takeshi Nakamoto, who was responsible for the text in the book. The theme is set out in a way that means Nakamoto plays the role of the curious student, looking for the wisdom of the experienced master. I like this setup. I felt like I was part of their journey as the two explored processes and attitudes towards street photography. It was a nice approach and gave the book a nice flow.

From their discussion, Moriyama was saying all the right things. He spoke about looking for relationships on the street, the way humans behave and the way in which mannerisms can change in less than a second. For the newbies, he encourages them to get out and shoot – the first step any green street photographer should take in order to get used a flow of shooting candidly. These lessons come as no surprise. They’re coming from someone who has seen it all. It’s valuable advice to someone at the beginning of their journey.

The Photos

I really didn’t want to have to say this, hence why I took my time with the book. But I can’t escape the feeling that most of the images are mediocre and do not do justice to this fantastic photographer. Looking at images of walls, street corners, and sideroads – none of them really giving me a message or connection. This is why I’m unsure if we really need this book in 2019. The images in the book display a very basic approach that was more relevant when the craft was in its infancy. If this book were published 40 years ago, maybe it would have been more impactful. But today we know far more than we did back then and far more than this book reflects – even at a beginner level.

Who is This Street Photography Book for?

This book is trying its best to be an educational piece. In the text you’re provided with some great information and understanding of the methods of a seasoned pro. In the images, you feel like you’ve listened to the words of a salesman whose end-product doesn’t live up to what you were sold.

If you’re a long time fan of Moriyama and his street photography, you will be disappointed. Although this book isn’t intended to be a retrospective of his best work, it’s underwhelming considering the standard we expect from him.

I honestly believe there are better options for beginners who are looking to start taking candid photos. At this stage of his career, a premium coffee table book would have been great and far more rewarding – both for the creators and the readers.

With regret, I give this book two out of five stars.

How I Take Photographs will be available from July 9th for $19.99 on the Laurence King website.