William Klein + Daido Moriyama
The second photography exhibition this weekend. It seems London is full of them at the moment, with an H.Cartier-Bresson inspired exhibition, and a Tim Walker review over at Somerset House (both on until January), and “Shoot” at the Photographers Gallery, it seems like every exhibition space wants in on that most vulgar of art forms, photography.
William Klein + Daido Moriyama; what to make of that? Like the Seduced by Art exhibition at the National Gallery, this seemed to be an exercise in contrast and compare. New York born William Klein with Osaka born Daido Moriyama, contemporaries in both time (Klein, born in 1928, is 10 years Moriyamas’s senior) and style: black and white urban “street” photography; rapid, unposed, snatched shots of the urban underbelly of their respective cities. Klein is cited as one of the pioneers of urban photography, yet the uniqueness and vitality of his work had to be recognised abroad first. His first book (Life Is Good & Good For You in New York (1956)) had to be published in Paris. Moriyama cites Klein as being inside his head, so its little surprise that there is a lot of common ground here.
The exhibition is really two for the price of one, walking through first William Klein, than on to the more extreme Moriyama. And thats how it felt. Whilst both artists had many similarities, Moriyama’s seemed more earthy, more underground, more extreme. Maybe this was the cultural difference between Japan and “the west”: but there seemed to be a clear “otherness” to Moriyamas works. Klein and Moriyama seemed to have disposed of traditional composition from the start, and yet, Klein’s work appears more…accessible. Maybe its his fashion work or his graphic design that lifts his imagery, that stops you from feeling like you’ve turned left when you should have turned right, and ended up in some dystopian hell-hole. Klein’s work stops short of menace, there seems to remain a feeling of hope, nay, joy, in his images, even the gritty ones.
Moriyama’s “Stray Dog” and Klein’s “Gun 1” (above) manifest this difference (as do “Boy” and “Gun 2” (below). The eyes of the boy with the gun, whilst intense and menacing, full of dramatic intent, are a mask. He’s not about to shoot, he’s mimicking whats he’s seen, (maybe a Cagney movie?): he’s play acting, its not real, hes enjoying the attention of the camera, posing for it, playing a part in front of his mates. Moriyamas stray dog, (in whose eyes, I suspect, we can discern Moriyamas own personality) on the other hand is full of caution, of awareness of pain and struggle, a knowledge that existence is borderline and that getting too close could tip the balance.
Clearly Moriyama has gone out of his way to disturb the viewer with “Boy” (above). The angle, the deliberate dark vignetteing and the “otherly” halo, the pose (deliberate or not), the slight oddness of the dress, nothing flattering about the image, just disturbance. With “Gun 2” Klein has captured the same age group of street kids (OK, maybe a little older), just as urchin-like, just as grubby, and yet they play for the camera. There are elements that disturb, not least the pose with the gun! but those are just time shifted sensibilities, overall the image records a moment of joy, even if with our social goggles on we see poverty, ill-health, and a grim cultural awareness of guns.
Moriyama’s snapshot approach, driven by his need to be unobtrusive, to be able to walk down the dark alleys through the detritus of human existence with relative impunity, creates the altered states that are his signature images. Using a small compact camera and rarely holding the finder to his eye, just “shooting from the hip”, Moriyama appears to stalk the streets like some ghost in the machine. His world seems one that Henry Spencer would like to aspire to, but the rest of us avoid.
Klein’s images are rarely dismembered body parts, his portraiture is of knowing and participatory peoples. His images may be taken in the slums, but they do not portray depravity or sin or “otherness”. They are scenes of life, they capture the beauty of living, rather than the the reality of dying.
In “Whore” (above) we see a young girl “fleeing” barefooted up a dank and litter strewn alley, clearly this cannot be pain free. There is the suggestion of escape, of fear, of running to safety away from the camera. Why? The use of flash (which seems rare in Moriyama’s images) heightens this sense of anxiety and tension. Even the title is typically degrading..”Whore”…says who? In Kleins “Bikini” (below) we also see a young girl, but she is vivacious, embracing the camera, she is open and expressive and confident, not full of shame or sin. She may also be wearing a mask, posing, but Klein has captured the vitality and exuberance and innocence of youth. Not its corruption.
From an inspirational perspective, the sheer volume of images that Moriyama takes has got to result in some images that are visually stunning. Without doubt he has captured a view of city life, but its a life that most of us wish to avoid. He brings it to us in all its grimy, sinful and lascivious reality. He is an artist, but is one single image his art? I think not. His art is the the full record of exploration of city life, he chooses the medium of photgraphy to voice his creative need and the simple compact camera he uses is just a tool. His images appear to record his own fractured psyche, perhaps he’s just as tortured, as cautious of embracing the living as the stray dog he is fascinated with.
Klein grabbed a camera, but just as quickly dropped it to explore moving imagery, and graphic design. His rejection of convention (along with a limited few others of the time) and his love of the city pervades his imagery. Perhaps thats why his images have more Joie de vivre about them, a love of beauty, of life. Personally, I’m for Kleins perception of reality. Moriyamas reality is just too depressing, its like watching a car crash (which he also took images of).
William Klein + Daido Moriyama: Tate Modern 10/10/2012 to 20/01/2013
A proper review here