William Klein + Daido Moriyama at the Tate Modern, a review by Matthew Fleming

I feel that I should kick off this little exploration of the Klein + Moriyama exhibit by first announcing that it is one of the most memorable photographic exhibitions I have ever visited. There are some obvious reasons for this; Klein and Moriyama are both Titans of their own shared, yet distinctly separate photographic styles. They each carved their own niche into the developing post-war photographic world and defined, more properly, the art of perfect imperfection. The exhibition reflects the two imposing photographic personalities in a suitable fashion, with each separate section of the display reflecting the similarities, and occasionally highlighting the differences, of each.

The exhibition on the whole is a frenetic affair; the influence of beat culture and in particular the writings of Jack Kerouac  (whom both artists identify as an inspiration) is abundantly clear. There is a palpable energy of restlessness in each room, which thoroughly echoes the anxious nature of the drug and jazz fuelled, eternally impatient beat culture. Broadway By Light is a wonderfully eclectic piece of film, which summarises the hedonism of ‘the beat’ into a succinctly feverish, colour driven introduction to the exhibition, it also serves as something as a step into the pop art movement. It may at first glance appear to be an introductory side-note; in many ways it jars with the deep ‘contrasty’ images that follow. It gains further clarity, as the introductory piece, as the gallery unfolds before you. It reflects the spontaneity that so many of the following images stem from. Klein himself stated in the accompanying notes that, “I made up the rules as I went along and they suited me fine.” To identify Klein and Moriyama as ‘Beat Photographers” would not be an entirely unsuitable definition. Although this is a point I shall return to later.

 Klein’s exhibition is to be blunt, bombastic. Walking through each of his seven rooms is staggering; whilst his work is most definitely not to everyone’s photographic tastes, it would be foolish to deny the immense power the wall-sized reproductions of his photographs hold. There is pleasure to be found in each photograph, whether it’s identifying the singular face in the crowd, who had observed Klein, or the sheer incredible size of the people staring down from the wall. Klein’s work is well suited to these vast reproductions; the wide-angle lenses that he favours capture ‘the whole picture’ and each face becomes something worthy of it’s own individual inspection. Klein utilises this to his own artistic advantage. He paints himself as a member of the crowd; the wide lenses, used up close on masses of people, serve only to associate Klein with those who surround him. This differs from traditional documentary journalistic practice, Klein is not just a passive observer; he’s part of the pulsating crowd, living in the moment he’s photographing, in true beat fashion. 

Moriyama’s section of the exhibition, whilst often highly stylistically similar to Klein’s, is a very different affair.  The pictures feel more intimate, if only because of the smaller size of the reproductions. More often than not however, Moriyama’s work is quite dissociated from any intimacy; some images display a great deal of distance from his subject, others are so claustrophobically close that the person portrayed becomes just as anonymous to the viewer as the distant figure lit by a street light.  This claustrophobia is enhanced further by Moriyama’s intense use of chiaroscuro style lighting, as Richard Dorment put it in his (in my belief somewhat unreasonable) review in the Telegraph, “Moriyama doesn’t so much work in black and white as in gradations of black and grey.”
The anonymity I have described is a fundamental part of the success of Moriyama’s images, in my eyes at least. It demonstrates to me the anonymity present in post-war Japanese society in a truly succinct fashion. In Moriyama’s wonderful study Platform 1977 he does not merely continue to document the anonymity of the people in the picture, as he had in earlier works. Instead the piece is more confrontational of the anonymity, the people on the platform are clearly identifiable, but to the viewer the people remain as they were to Moriyama, strangers in a city filled with strangers. Moriyama’s trip to New York offers us, the viewer, an insight into the differences between Klein and Moriyama’s style on a slightly more ‘even playing field’. Whilst Klein presented a bustling hive, complete with his Vogue models posing on the street, Moriyama took a slightly different approach. Moriyama’s New York is a near empty, lonely place, a far cry from Klein’s ‘gross, bull-horn’ approach.

 Despite the beautifully haunting images offered in Moriyama’s galleries I couldn’t help but feel it lacked the full impetus he could’ve garnered. Klein is clearly the poster boy for this exhibition; his bright wall hugging pictures captured the mass of attention whilst I was perusing the photographs, his showmanship and pop art style flair does seem to suffocate Moriyama a little. It also does not help Moriyama that his work is best viewed in the medium he uses most, photo books and journals. Provoke is one of the most obvious amongst these and copies were present at the exhibition, along with a number of Moriyama’s other small print works (courtesy of Martin Parr’s clearly magnificent collection).

It’s at this point we can realise fully some of the fundamental differences between the photographers. Moriyama stated, “My approach is very simple- there is no artistry, I just shoot freely” Klein by comparison approached photography with what appears to be a more definite, considered and reassured artistry; he offers a keen, flamboyant and satirical eye. This is especially apparent in his works of old contact sheets, daubed with bright primary colours. It’s not so much a flagrant rejection of the past, but more of re-examination of what is important to him, as a figure in the art world.

 Again, after all I have discussed, I find myself disagreeing with Richard Dorment. Whilst he states that the two photographers should never have been offered together in a single exhibit, I seek to argue the complete opposite. Perhaps this is because each photographer’s work is so separated from the other, in the sense of gallery space. It gives an impression of sterility and the viewer in the gallery is required to make connections between the two image-makers on their own. Whilst this is no bad thing, I don’t feel it offers the audience a true view unto the relationship between the photographers. I alluded earlier to the idea of Klein and Moriyama being ‘beat’ photographers. If you will, they represent a stepping-stone between the post-war and the pop. The influence of Kerouac upon Moriyama is indisputable. Hunter, the result of Moriyama’s investigation of the Japanese roadways is On the Road through and through. The empty highways, streetlights at night and general ‘road-trip’ atmosphere of his images calls to the impatience and fleeting nature of the 40s and 50s beatniks; whilst retaining in many ways a claustrophobic loneliness and melancholy. Klein addresses beat culture in an entirely different manner. His is a bright and lurid vision; the jazz on Broadway by Light and the streets crowded with people, juxtaposing both the work of Henri Cartier-Bresson and later upon his arrival, Moriyama. His photos remain true to a wild, transitory approach to life that beat culture inspires.

It is in this vein that I feel the two photographers work should’ve been more mixed together into a single cohesive exhibit; this I feel would better represent ‘the melting pot’ concept of beat culture and be more true to the influence of each photographer on each other. Klein influenced Moriyama to a great extent; I can’t help but feel by displaying Moriyama as markedly second and separate to Klein, the Tate exhibitors have turned Moriyama into something of an acolyte to Klein.

Despite my criticism the exhibition remained a wonderfully thought provoking exploration into both photographers. The explosive, immersive images of Klein both complimented and juxtaposed the more introverted and melancholy photos taken by Moriyama. By my eye the choice to exhibit both artists ‘together’ was an excellent decision, in spite of my reservations regarding the ‘mixing’ of the work. On the same day I visited the National Portrait Gallery collection of the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait award finalists. It was a dynamic contrast to the Tate’s investigation into Klein and Moriyama and whilst it was greatly stimulating I couldn’t help but recall a quote by Jack Kerouac, “Great things are not accomplished by those who yield to trends and fads and popular opinion.” Klein and Moriyama clearly accomplished great things.

 

 Baker, Simon. Daido Moriyama. London: Tate Publishing, 2012.

Dorment, Richard. “Klein and Moriyama, Tate Modern, Review.” The Telegraph . October 2012, 8. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/art/art-reviews/9594623/Klein-and-Moriyama-Tate-Modern-review.html (accessed January 2013, 15).

Glover, Michael. William Klein + Daido Moriyama, Tate Modern . October 8, 2012. http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/art/reviews/william-klein–daido-moriyama-tate-modern-london-8202409.html (accessed January 14, 2013).

Broadway By Light. Directed by William Klein. 1958.

  

 

I leave this examination now with a series of simple photographs that I took. I offer no explanation of their theme orcircumstance (in true Moriyama style) beyond the fact that they were taken/re-edited after I had visited the exhibition and undergone a fit of inspiration.

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