Daido Moriyama, arguably the most original and influential photographer in Japan, had never been to New York before a month-long visit at the end of 1971 in the company of his friend Tadanori Yokoo, who was preparing for a show of his graphic art at the Museum of Modern Art. “I really had a terrible yearning towards” New York, he told gallerist Andrew Roth recently, but since this was also the then 33-year-old Moriyama’s first trip outside of Japan, he “was a little bit like a puppy leaving its mother’s side for the first time.” His longing for the city almost crippled by the anxiety of actually navigating it, he ended up spending much of his time holed up in a room at the Fifth Avenue Hotel, watching TV, or poring through the Weegee photos in MOMA’s collection.
In spite of this, Moriyama managed to take more than 2000 black-and-white pictures in New York, 44 of which are on the walls at Roth Horowitz in a show that also includes a broad array of the photographer’s books and other publications. Just over 200 images from the series are reproduced in ’71-NY (PPP Editions, through D.A.P., $85), a fat, mesmerizing brick of a book that captures Moriyama’s agitation and Manhattan’s frenzy in what feels like a moment-by-moment diary. Though a number of the photos here recall Robert Frank and William Klein, most bear Moriyama’s unmistakable stamp and are typically grainy, blurred, and full of gorgeous extraneous material, as if taken both on the sly and in a rush. But no matter how furtive and frantic, Moriyama is relentlessly arresting, and the trademark inky richness of his prints cloaks the most mundane street scenes in a noir atmosphere as exciting as it is disquieting.