Personal statement by Japanese photographer Daido MORIYAMA
"It was a long, long time ago. Each of them was sleeping in a liquid inside a small flask about the size of a human thumb. All of them had oyster-colored skins, and were shaped like shrimps. In a glass case at the end of a row of shelves in a dark corridor of an obstetrics and gynecology hospital near the Tanzawa mountains in Kanagawa, countless fetuses in formaldehyde were quietly leaning on each other as they looked out into the sun-drenched courtyard." (© Daido MORIYAMA)
"Risograph-photo book 'Pantomime' features many previously unpublished vintage Daido MORIYAMA images and comes as signed edition of 600 numbered copies, silkscreen covered.
Book review (by Torsten NYSTRÖM*)
"The photo volume 'Pantomime' by Daido MORIYAMA arrives with the mail, as usual accompanied by a Japanese whiff of fragrant ink (...), with a stapled silkscreen linoleum cover, containing photos of human fetuses. 'Pantomime' launches the more or less complete series of his pictures of fetuses, stored in formalin, which he at age 25 photographed at a maternity hospital in Kanagawa. It was 1963, and this was his first own project after three years’ work as an assistant to Eikoh HOSOE. At the same time, around 1963, recently deceased photographer Lennart NILSSON strived in various medical research laboratories in Sweden to document fetuses aborted after ectopic pregnancy and at Karolinska hospital to document them alive inside the uterus with the help of an endoscope. (...)These pictures were first published in 1965 in the book 'A Child is Born'. April 30 same year the U.S. picture magazine Life in an issue devoted to the picture story of life by Lennart NILSSON, on its front page featured his photo of a living 18-week old fetus inside it’s amniotic sac; floating like an astronaut on an extra-vehicular assignment in space. Arthur C. Clarke must have seen the photo before he included 'the star child' in his 1968 novel and in the script for Stanley KUBRICK’s movie '2001 – A Space Odyssey' same year. (...)
In 1968 the public photobook debut by Daido MORIYAMA, 'Japan, a photo theatre' was published. It starts with a portrait of actor Shimizu Isamu and stage photos, probably from his entertainer’s series for Camera Mainichi, continue to intersperse the sequence that gives a foreboding of his 'grainy, blurry and unfocused' photos to come. And it ends with the beginning of life; a section framed by black pages showing eight of the fetus photos; black and white like the rest of the book.The publication 'Pantomime' by Daido MORIYAMA, maybe alluding to the 1968 title, since it’s a form of theater, published by his main publisher Akio Nagasawa, in a limited edition of 600 copies, now gives us a chance to see the fetus photos in imperial octavo (21 x 29 cm.) instead of the sextodecimo format (10 x 17 cm.) of 'Japan, a Photo Theater'; even more so since the entire new book is made out of double or simple foldouts. Some of his close-ups could give the illusion of living fetuses, with a luster but thin fur, but the majority obviously are dead fetuses in a plastic bag or a glass container or test tubes. Two are lying spread out in streaks of blood on a table. Others kneel in a praying position or lie in a heap. 'Poor little fellows indeed', Daido MORIYAMA says in the afterword. He calls it the starting point of his photographic career whereas the pantomime 'was projecting nothing else but my own hopelessness at the time'. (...)
These pictures of anonymous creatures and graphic patterns of meaningless death, in bleeding layout, make the quintessential modern photobook, different from illustrated text books. (...) When people read the book by Lennart NILSSON they thought the pictures showed living proto-babies, which only a few photos did; when they looked at MORIYAMA’s fetuses, some (like the maker of the blog Achtung.Photography), believed they saw dolls, and the bloodiest photos certainly are not published in the 'photo theater' book. Hardly anyone could however doubt that the Daido MORIYAMA fetuses are non-living. Lennart NILSSON follows the tradition of Life magazine and that of the Family of Man exhibition, celebrating humanity’s common endeavour. Daido MORIYAMA is a forerunner of today’s young Japanese photography that has become mainly abstract, even though you sometimes glean some reality behind the patterns of colours and shadows, in the work of Daisuke YOKOTA or Kenta COBAYASHI, for example; one preferring chemical means to alter the content of his material whereas the other mainly uses digital tools. These artists strive for hypermateriality in a binary world, manifested in artifacts like 'MMGGZZNN' by Kenta KOBAYASHI, a 1.7 m high and 1.2 m wide magazine, or 'Matter' by Daisuke YOKOTA: 100,000 photographic prints coated in wax and eventually burned.
'Pantomime' by Daido MORIYAMA, in a more modest way, brings to proximate, two-dimensional existence these proto-creatures, so long since gone. It’s part of the modern-day photobook scene that is more about art than informative books like 'A Child is Born'. Many of today’s photobooks are, like graphic art from copper plates and litographs, printed in editions smaller even than the 600 for 'Pantomime'. The latest trend is to make them as much handmade as possible and to include artifacts like facsimiles of newspapers and passports. (...)" (© Torsten NYSTRÖM, source: https://www.photobookstore.co.uk/blog/features/pantomime-by-daido-moriyama-and-a-child-is-born-by-lennart-nilsson-compared-by-torsten-nystrom/)
The series are citated in
- 'Black Sun. The Eyes of Four', Aperture No. 106, 1986;
'Beyond Japan – A photo theater', by John Cape, 1991;
'The Photobook: A History volume 1', by Martin Parr & Gerry Badger, 2004
*About Torsten NYSTRÖM
Torsten NYSTRÖM has been working as a newsphoto editor for forty years. He has published hundreds of columns on photography and curated two major exhibitions of Soviet post-war photography (APN). Following that, he helped Mark Holborn make the photobook 'Propaganda' (published in three different editions in 2006).
In 2013, Torsten NYSTRÖM published an essay about the Göttingen publisher Steidl for the catalogue of the exhibition 'How to make a book with Steidl', at Daelim Museum in Seoul.
- Clipped pb. with linen dust jacket, 22 x 30,5 x 1 cm., 32 pp. (many foldout pages!), 24 b/w ills., bilingual text: Japanese / English, Ltd. to 600 copies