Review: Tales of Tono by Daido Moriyama


Book Reviews, Photobooks


At first, it might appear odd for me to claim that this review of Daido Moriyama’s Tales of Tono should be read alongside the one I wrote about Antonio M. Xoubanova’s Casa de Campo. Tales of Tono is vintage Moriyama - heavy black and while, Provoke style - seemingly everything that Casa de Campo is not. But I want to claim that these two bodies of work were made from if not the same then a very, very similar mental spot. If that is not obvious from the work, then it might become quite a bit clearer when the long and incredibly insightful essay is considered that Moriyama wrote for the book.

Moriyama’s essay covers all the usual stuff that photographers love so much (“Taking photographs is one of my obsessions. Or perhaps it is the other way around: my obsessions force me to take photographs.”). But there is a lot more. In addition to speaking about his working method, Moriyama explores his motivations for going to Tono, his “home town.” Strictly speaking, Tono is not his home town, but biographical data are mostly besides the point here. I don’t want to sum up the argument since I feel that would take too much away from the essay. But Tales of Tono has a lot to do with place and how photographers relate to place, what place might mean, and where certain ideas of place (“home town”) originate. I’m almost tempted to say the essay is a must-read for any serious photographer.

Tales of Tono also is the name of a collection of folk/fairy stories, collected in the early 20th century by Kunio Yanagita (the English-language version is called The Legends of Tono; the Japanese titles are the same). Yanagita went to Tono and had people tell him these stories of spirits and animals, some benevolent, others not. By naming his book after Yanagita’s, Moriyama acknowledges photography’s kinship with story telling and with the way folk stories are created, or maybe how folk stories originate from human’s desire to understand, while feeling helplessly defenseless in a seemingly cruel world.

The bulk of the book consists of pairs of images, many of which, Moriyama asserts, were shot as a pair: The photographer would take a photograph and then look for another to go with it. These pairs form the basis from which the story is constructed, if we want to think of the book having a story. There is an arrival, by train, for sure, and it appears the town is left at the very end.

Here then is a Japanese version of Casa de Campo, or if you prefer it the other way around, Casa de Campo is a Spanish version of Tales of Tono. Either way, the two books both play around the same ideas, and I find it extremely interesting to see the similarities in concept, given the differences in appearance and era (Tales of Tono originally was published decades ago, this version is a re-release). As I said before, the book comes with a magnificent essay by Daido Moriyama, which delves deep into the topic of how photography works.

Highly recommended.

Tales of Tono; photographs by Daido Moriyama; essays by Daido Moriyama, Lena Fritsch, Simon Baker; 192 pages; Tate/D.A.P.; 2013