Klein + Moriyama: New York Tokyo Film Photography is the latest in a recent rupture of thoughtfully curated photography coming out of the Tate Modern. And, following the likes of Diane Arbus, Boris Mikhailov and the 2010 show Exposed: Voyeurism, Surveillance and The Camera, it appears to have a penchant for the candid wanderers of the world.
So here we have two connoisseurs of the street in what is essentially two retrospectives back to back. It begins with American painter, filmmaker, and photographer William Klein (b.1928), and ends with Daido Moriyama, (b.1938). The story goes that a twenty year old Moriyama stumbled upon Klein’s seminal photo book, Life is Good and Good For You in New York, published in 1956, a daringly stark portrait of New York, which would go on to change the way he photographed from then on.
These are men who see the city as a mysterious world, that births a strange kind of existence filled with stark realities, performance, isolation, desires and nervous energy. Both shooting predominantly New York and Tokyo in black and white with a point and shoot, they seem to subsume street photography into their own brand of photographic impressionism. Quick to capture what grabbed them, their images had little time for technical expertise and appear more like throbs of instinctive impulse, that often dissolve into abstraction.
The show literally opens with a bang, with Klein’s film Broadway Light 1958, towering over you in pulsating neon flashes which cut to close ups of garish street signs, ‘Don’t walk’ and ‘Taste it’. Klein explores the city as cinema, a phantasmagoria, lulling us into a waking dream state. His work appears to be an intense investigation into these wheels of control and seduction.
An interesting paradox is his heavy involvement in the fashion industry, working as a photographer for Vogue in his early career. We see enlarged pictures of models head to toe in designer clothing parading the gritty streets of New York, and a satire of the fashion industry in the film, Who are you Polly Magoo? which plays in a room looping a retrospective of his films. It’s quite hard to believe how he got away with poking fun at fashion, whilst at the same time, changing the face of it forever. In his most creative fashion endeavour he mixes photographs of models with photograms showing them interacting with moving light.
There is an inherent urgency about Klein’s practice that speaks to some kind of post war hysteria; rooms of abstract paintings, photograms, films then back to photography. A man on a manic quest for his own truth and always trying to break down the façade, he even does this with the photograph itself in huge blown up photo laminates of painted contact sheets unveiling the selection process for all to see. Laying things as bare as he can, the American dream seems to shatter slightly every time Klein clicks. The war may have been over but a new one was being waged.
The mania of Klein’s rooms pave the way for Moriyama to adopt a more sensual approach, where Klein is the rampant explorer, Moriyama, ten years his junior, is the flaneur letting his intuition lead.
Moriyama, born in Osaka but later settling in Tokyo, seems to be trying to make sense of these fragmented places, which the city poses. His democracy of vision renders real-artificial, human-animal, subject-photographer, inanimate object-nature all equal, all up for investigation. His photographs are where pre conceptions go to die. The city is merely a plethora of possibilities and he is open to them all. In the series Platform he captures different groups of people waiting for the train. We see a businessman, a granny and a housewife all coexisting on an equal plane, all having a story we can get lost in.
Moriyama’s influence, Jack Kerouac’s On the road, can be seen in the countless open-ended narratives that pour onto the walls in a stream of consciousness. Like Kerouac did with writing, Moriyama pushes the limits of photography - shooting grainy, disjointed compositions, overlapping images and over exposing. Photographs become his own subconscious imprints. In Farewell photography we see how Moriyama like Klein, uses personal expressions and distortion of light to remind us of the façade of the photograph.
The curator, Simon Baker, explains this is “a show about photographic architecture”. Staying true to Klein and Moriyama’s love affair with the photo book, the exhibition utilises this in a visually exciting way. There are vitrines full of books, issues of Japanese vintage publication Provoke. The photographs adorn the walls in grids resembling something of a free flowing book etched out on the wall. This, coupled with mammoth sized images and large-scale films create a constant flux of shapes and forms.
Ultimately, this exhibition is an opportunity to witness how pioneering both were in breaking from the confines of the photograph to create a visual language where perception can roam freely, in turn, producing images that seem to spring from the dark recesses of our imaginations and fantasies.
Rachel Ridge: Do you see the relationship between you and William Klein?Daido Moriyama: Rather than feeling there’s any particular connection with the artist, I feel very happy and very fortunate to be able to share the same space with him. When I was in my twenties and saw Klein photographs of New York it really inspired me to become a photographer and change the way I took photographs myself.
RR: I read that sometimes you don’t look into the viewfinder when you’re shooting; you let your body take the photograph. How much do you rely on instinct and intuition?
DM: Yes. Intuition is very important and the instinct there. Sometimes if you’re in the town you might be looking one direction and you’ll just feel that there’s something happening over there and so you’ll just turn the camera and take a photo in the other direction and that is pure instinct.
RR: Can you elaborate on how Jack Kerouac’s On the road has influenced your work?
DM: It’s not as though in every shot I take there is a bit of Jack Kerouac or a bit of Andy Warhol. When I was young I was very influenced by seeing their work or reading their work and that has somehow sunk into my subconscious and so it probably is present in all that I do but I’m not very conscious of it when I’m taking the pictures. I can emphasise with them in how they see the world, your basis stance to what’s around you.
RR: So like an intuitive remembering...
DM: It’s intuitive sometimes when you’re actually taking the photo. It can be intuitive what kind of photo you take but at the same time this basic stance to the world around you that’s the base on what you’re standing, so not quite the same as intuition. Through the lens it might be an instinctive motion to take a photo but the whole of my life and memories are acting through that one motion at that time.