We should all go to more photography exhibitions

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I’m going to ask you something, and you have to answer honestly. How long has it been since you visited a photography exhibition? A week? A month? Three months? More than a year? Since before the pandemic?

The reason I ask is that I was recently prompted to ask myself this question, and I wasn’t thrilled with myself when I worked out my answer. I was browsing my phone, not doing very much of anything, when I came across an announcement from The Photographer’s Gallery that its enormous Daido Moriyama retrospective was on the verge of opening to the public.


I was so excited I leapt from my chair (I didn’t really, but it’s the sort of thing people say). Daido Moriyama has been quite possibly my favourite photographer for more than a decade. Born in Japan in 1938, Moriyama is probably most famous for his black-and-white street photography of Japanese cities like Tokyo and Osaka, shooting frame after frame on his beloved Kodak Tri-X film as the country remade itself following its defeat in World War II. But his 60-year career has spanned so much more than that, such as his Kerouac-inspired road trips across America, his studies in eroticism for the avant-garde magazine Provoke, his lifelong interrogations of the medium of photography. The man is 85 years old, and still shooting today! His work represents an incredible, still-unfolding legacy.

The Gallery’s exhibition opened at the beginning of October, 2023. October came and went, then November arrived, as it does, and I still hadn’t made it to the exhibition. There was no real good reason – I just hadn’t. Life got in the way. I had work to do, commitments to honour, a loudmouthed cat to feed.

It started to feel a bit silly, to be honest. One of my favourite artistic spaces was devoting itself wholly to the work of one of my favourite artists, and I couldn’t find a couple of spare hours in a day to go check it out? It made me ask myself the same question I asked you – when was the last time I’d been to a photographic exhibition. It also made me examine what I meant when I was saying favourite photographer, anyway.


For years, when people have asked me what my favourite book is, my stock answer has been Catch-22. Now, I haven’t read Catch-22 in possibly a decade, and have quite a tenuous recollection of what exactly happens in it – I just keep it as a stock answer to avoid being caught out by the question. I wondered whether I’d been using Moriyama’s work the same way.

It further occurred that I hadn’t ever properly seen Moriyama’s work in person. I’d spent long nights poring over his images on my tiny phone, on my grubby laptop screen (I should clean that), but I had never occupied the same physical space as one of his prints. 

A couple of years ago, for Black + White Photography magazine, I interviewed the photographer Nick Brandt, who produces ambitious and striking imagery responding to the climate crisis. Something he said that particularly stuck with me was that he never knows if he’s taken a good photograph until he sees it printed. After all, as he pointed out, everything looks great when seen luminous on a phone screen. This certainly rang true for me – when my scans come back from the photo lab and I check them on my phone, they always look amazing, inspiring, revolutionary. It’s not until I open them in Photoshop that I remember I’m a moron who can’t focus a lens. 

Now, I’m not saying I needed to see a print to know whether Moriyama’s work was good – obviously it is. But it seemed right that I needed to see the work in person to understand my own relationship with it, and to do that, I was going to have to get off my butt and make time to get to the exhibition. So I did.

I probably don’t need to tell you this, but the exhibition is brilliant. Every floor of the Photographer’s Gallery is full to bursting with spectacular prints covering Moriyama’s entire career, and you can spend hours in the reading room losing yourself in his books and magazines. Moriyama’s commitment to the dense, challenging style of ‘are, bure, boke’ [roughly translates to ‘grainy, blurry, out-of-focus’] would likely not win him many friends down the camera club, but it makes his images thrilling to decipher, a process that feels so much more engaging and alive with a large-format print.


Taken as a whole, the exhibition feels like so much more than photographs on walls – you’re being invited to physically take yourself through one man’s life and work. It feels like a proper show – which, in a filmed interview you can watch on one of the gallery’s floors, is exactly what Moriyama says he wants. He much prefers the idea of people experiencing his work as a show, rather than as “something primitive, like art” (I love him honestly).

I’m sure some of you feel like I’m trying to teach grandmother to suck eggs. But I’m equally sure that I’m not alone in feeling like I don’t spend enough time immersing myself in the art of photography. We’re in a time where it feels like all of us are stretched exceptionally thin – not enough time, not enough money and not enough energy. Forcing ourselves to take time for ourselves to do something as frivolous as seeing a photography show can all too easily feel like an impossible task. But if you care about the art form, it’s one worth pursuing.

I’m going to commit to seeing at least one photo exhibition a month, through 2024 and beyond. I’m aware that I’m in a privileged position – I live in London after all. So, I thought the best way to close out this piece would be to recommend some of the exhibitions from other parts of the UK that I’d most love to see:

Only Human: Aneesa Dawoojee, RPS Gallery Bristol until November 19th, 2023. You’ll have to hurry to catch this one, but it looks to be well worth it – south London documentary photographer Aneesa Dawoojee explores the story of the UK’s Caribbean communities.

Marc Wilson: A Wounded Landscape, Impressions Gallery Bradford until February 3rd, 2024. A culmination of Wilson’s six-year journey to document the physical remnants of the Holocaust across the landscapes of Europe. There will also be an artist talk with Wilson on January 27th

Café Royal Books, Stills Edinburgh until February 10th, 2024. Hugely excited for this one – Café Royal is an incredible project by Craig Atkinson, who has published hundreds of zine-style photobooks at affordable, accessible prices. This exhibition, showing off work from the first 600(!) books, includes images from Chris Killip, Daniel Meadows, Shirley Baker, Martin Parr and many, many more.

Have you been neglecting the gallery or exhibition scene? Are there any shows you've been to recently or looking forward to visiting? Tell us about it on your socials and tag @wextweets on X, @wexphotovideo on Instagram or visit on Facebook.