SHELF : Bye Bye Photography by Daido Moriyama March 28 2014, 226 Comments
Bye Bye Photography by Daido Moriyama
Softcover, 1st Edition
~ 370 Pages
When I first saw this book I was blown away. I was living in NY at the time, and through a series of random and interconnected occurrences I befriended an elderly woman in Central Park through whom I was given a chance to see the original book at an auction house. I would be lying if I didn’t say that a part of me loved her.
Typing on an old typewriter, I was writing letters to strangers at the time, finding addresses and buildings that interested me to send off whatever it was that I had typed during the day. Sometimes they would be imagined love letters from different points of view where I would sign the letters with aliases or different names that I had come up with or heard in passing. Often, I’d go as far as to pick a name off a door chart and write a personalized letter to a person I had no idea about. Surprisingly, more often than not, the letters were replied to with small notes that I kept and carried around with me until a couple years ago when I burned a bunch of old papers in a large fire in Joshua Tree- but that’s another story.
Anyway, I was in Central Park writing these letters and all of a sudden I look up and there’s this old woman hovering above me, looking at me in a curious way, asking with her body what it was that I was doing, her lips, however -still- not uttering a word.
I smiled and held out my hand, offering her my name and a question- what was hers?
Patricia, she said through an ambivalent smile, sitting down across from me.
In the background I could hear kids playing frisbee while dogs moved and mulled about in my periphery. She came closer. The first thing I noticed about her was her face; it reminded me of the mother in Terry Gilliam’s Brazil. It is so peculiar that one does not know when they are in the presence of a person who will completely change their life through friendship. She was such a person. Our relationship lasted a little over a year, and ended not through acrimony, but through a melancholy incident.
What had started as a “once a day meeting” friendship, turned into a “whenever there’s free time for either of us we’ll be together” friendship. I saw her more than anyone else in New York during that time. Every day we would walk around the park, her telling me stories about her younger self and the city. One day, she invited me to her house.
I live right around the corner, she said, her arm reaching for a building up the block.
Perhaps it was the 19 year old part of me, but I didn’t hesitate for a moment. As we stepped onto 72nd Street and crossed Central Park West, she turned over and smiled at me, guiding me toward the Dakota building. I couldn’t believe it.
We walked into the enormous courtyard, and after I signed in, a doorman let us in and up toward her apartment. As soon as we stepped inside she motioned for me to sit on a small loveseat, whereby she disappeared and reappeared in a matter of minutes. I was still dumbfounded, and barely noticed that she was now holding a tray of tea in her hands. My cup tapped on the saucer like a persistent rain on tin. Mumbling a few odd words, she leaned closer to me to see what was wrong.
I had no idea you lived here, I managed to say.
What, you thought I was some bum? And with that she broke whatever proverbial ice there was, and we both rolled into a healthy laughter. I put down my tea on the table and before I could say anything she asked if she could ask me a serious question.
Of course, I obliged. What she said next, I can’t really describe. I can of course write down what she said, regurgitate it, but the words- words are nothing. The feeling from them, from what she said- it completely tore my vision of how I saw the world; how synchronicity and coincidence can come together and create such a powerful pretext for friendship- it startled me. (Well, with a build up like that it must be something, right?)
What she told me was that we had met before- through text. She had received a letter I had written and addressed to her randomly. It was a love letter, one that I admit I did not recall writing while I was sitting there in her apartment. Later, after she read it to me I was dumbfounded. It was more than a love letter, it was a parting letter. Patricia was a widow. Her husband had died a few years previous to our meeting and, although it didn’t take her by surprise, it had of course caused her grief. What was in my letter to her was startling for the fact that beyond being a simple love letter, I had signed it with a fake name I came up with that coincidentally happened to be a surname that her late husband used infrequently. When I saw her in the park that first time, she was responding to my letter wherein I wrote: “I hope to see you again Patricia, and will await you everyday at noon on a small bench with a large heart in Central Park; follow the sounds of my writing instrument and you will find me.”
The whole time she was telling me this story, she had a smile that a person can often acquire, the type of smile that is kept up for appearances. I didn’t know what to do but hug her- so I did. And instantly that smile dissolved into a pattern of weeping. She stopped after awhile and said some of the most poignant words I had ever heard, that she believed that although he was dead, that she had found me in a way to get better and carry on. I smiled and held her hand while watching her bottom lip quiver from emotion before turning back into a smile, although this one were different- it was entirely genuine.
Months passed and we hung out together more and more often. She was an art collector and every once in a while we would go to auctions where she would have me raise the paddle for her or pick things for her estate by myself. It was bizarre- here I was, not yet 20, broke as shit, eating dollar dumplings at night while, during the day I was placing hundred-thousand dollar bids for her on old Dadaist art.
One day she told me about an auction they were having for rare photobooks. She couldn’t attend because of a doctor’s appointment, but encouraged me to go by myself. Once there, I expressed interest in only a few books, mostly because I could only recognize a few names in the auction catalogue. One of them, Daido Moriyama, I remembered from a book my older sister had shown me called Memories of a Dog. At the time, I was only painting and writing, and hadn’t yet started taking photographs, so I was drawn into the book by the text which was amazing- reading that book felt like reading my own thoughts for the first time. So as soon as I saw that name in the catalogue I inquired about the piece that was in the auction. From what I remember they had a few books by Moriyama, but the only book I remember from that day was his seminal Shashin yo Sayonara, also known as Farewell Photography, Bye Bye Photography, and Bye Bye Photography, Dear. Looking through that book fucking blew my mind. I had to wear gloves while I was in the showroom and after looking through the book for so long I was so mesmerized I had walked out of the auction house forgetting to remove the gloves. I walked around Manhattan looking like a weird hybrid beggar/mime, not saying anything and just wandering in between persons, people and crowds. It wasn’t until I made my way down to the South Street Seaport and was able to stare into the water for awhile that I was able to catch my breath for a moment. I crossed the bridge and walked home to my apartment in Borough Park. I put on a record and called Patricia, telling her I had made it to the showroom, going on and on about this book. We talked for awhile and then she told me she had to go to sleep; I looked outside and the sun was just starting to speak along the sidewalk. I put the phone down, rolled into my bed and closed my eyes.
The next day we talked a bit more on the phone, she said she would be busy for the next couple days so I resigned myself to the fact that I would be by myself. I took the train to downtown for the next few days, holing up in the Film Forum, watching movies and wandering around the park during off hours to peruse the book vendors for any gems. A week went by and I didn’t hear from her, which was odd, but I thought nothing of it besides how much I missed her. Then another week went by without a word. I took the B train uptown, got off 72nd Street and walked toward her apartment. The doorman there, who knew my face by now, came up to me with a hug. Then, out of nowhere, he started apologizing and kept apologizing and I was wondering what why what why what why. He kept saying how sorry he was, I’m so sorry Jason, I’m sorry; he kept saying those words and in his arms I started to grasp and understand the strands of the story he was trying to tell me which I’m trying to write down right here. She had passed away. They told me it was in her sleep but I’m not sure if they said that to make the punch softer for me. It was devastating. I had lost people before, friends and acquaintances, but this- there was nothing like this that I had experienced. She was more than a friend, more than anything I can really describe, and it’s a crime that I’m using words to tell this story cause words can not and will not ever be able to do justice to the memories we had, the magic- it was pure in its own meandering way. And right now, all I can think of, all I can really say is how much she meant to me, which is more than any of these consonants and vowels will be able to bear; either through whatever words, sentences or paragraphs they form, they will never be a bridge to the feelings I feel when I feel what I do when I remember her and that moment from when I was engulfed in arms and that man, Eddie, who kept apologizing to me for something he hadn’t done but knew would hurt me more than anything he could do.
I took a deep breath and walked silently away from the Dakota, ambling through the park where we had met for the second time after my letter, and I went home hoping there would be something from her or someone else or some other- but there was nothing; so I watched Brooklyn move slowly outside my window while people above and around me in other apartments larger and smaller dealt with problems of their own.
* * *
From what I know there are 4 versions of this book- the original that came out in 1972, a 2001 facsimile reprint of the original that was included in a Steidl Verlag / Edition 7L metal boxset titled The Japanese Box, a 2006 PowerShovel reprint, and this most recent 2012 Kodansha reprint pictured above. I’ve been lucky enough to handle all four, and have to say that although the PowerShovel one is the largest, it is my least favorite- the large glossy pages speak a completely different language than the original modestly sized version. It doesn’t help that the PowerShovel version has a perfect binding that is prone to break apart from weak glue having to hold the oversized pages. The Steidl facsimile copy, however, is amazing- it has and holds everything that the original does besides the smell. In fact, one might say it’s even better than the original in that it is a more recent version and not nearly as faded or worn as the vast majority of other copies of the original tend to be. However, I’m broke as fuck and it’s not likely that I’ll be able to purchase either the original (which goes for auction at an upwards of $10,000) or the Steidl facsimile version (which can be found on the secondhand market for upwards of $1,800), so when I found out that Kodansha was reprinting a version of the book in the same format they had reprinted ’71 NY, Japan: A Photo Theater among others, I was ecstatic and immediately preordered it. When I picked it up from the bookstore it didn’t disappoint- it actually exceeded my expectations. If you’re not familiar with Kodansha, they are primarily a manga comic book publisher in Japan, so these reprints are housed in modest novel ‘roman’ sized editions- basically paperbacks. And after leafing through them, I feel that this is almost as perfect a rendition for this body of work as the original. Although many of the original images have been severely cropped from the original printing and book, it seems okay with me to a degree in that it goes with the spirit of the book that Daido and his two superb editors at Shashin Hyōronsha set out with- a deconstruction and destruction of photography. A farewell, good-bye and good riddance to a medium that had haunted him for years, this book has underneath its textured surface numerous layers of depth, that when revealed after much study, show how much Daido put into the work by stepping away. It is the most amazing photobook I have encountered yet, and one that affected and effected me greatly when I first encountered it- so I thought it fitting to begin our new blog series SHELF with it here.
1972 Shashin Hyōronsha Original Available Here.
2001 Steidl Facsimile Reprint Available Here.
2006 PowerShovel Reprint Available Here.
2012 Kodansha Reprint Available Here.
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