Sunday, 16 December 2012

William Klein + Daido Moriyama

Verdict: Give it a miss
Where: Tate Modern
When: 10 October - 20 January 2013

William Klein, Piazza di Spagna, Rome, 1960. Copyright William Klein

Klein and Moriyama are two photographers who loved to use black and white to capture their native cities - New York and Tokyo respectively. This exhibition explores how Klein's work influenced Moriyama's and how their work developed over time.

The exhibition is cleverly laid out to present a mirror image of the two artists work so that you fully experience Klein before moving on to Moriyama. Klein went about trying to capture New Yorkers going about their day and juxtaposing this with the surreal such as men engaging in a ritual dance while their heads are covered with dark sacks - it's a disturbing image.

Klein proves that he has an eye for a great image. My two favourites are a photograph of two models, one dressed in white the other black, as they cross a zebra crossing - the contrast in colours is perfectly framed. The other is of the sun overlooking New York where the lens flare creates a glowing ball hovering over New York. These images are works of patience as in the day before digital cameras it was all about the processing and manipulation - creating the right effects in the dark room could take hours per photo.

My only issue was that there aren't enough of these gripping photographs and his use of a blurred image to create a style of abstract photography often misses the mark. At first I thought this was because I have a restricted view in that abstract only works for paintings, but I'm a fan of Rinko Kawauchi's work yet these pieces don't have the same effect on me.

However, one of Klein's quotes is very insightful. He states that a photograph is taken in 1/125th of a second so 100 photos doesn't even capture 1 second of life. It makes you think whether holiday snaps can ever do a foreign country justice, in that a photograph is a snapshot of a time and place and can never capture a location fully as it will evolve over time.

Klein's section ends with a video montage of a superhero that satirically mocks the cold war propaganda that was seen in the '60's. At first you chuckle at the ridiculous nature of it all, but the video just keeps on going and anything more than 10 minutes of watching leads to boredom.

Now we move on to Moriyama. As I wasn't entirely sold on Klein, it's no surprise that Moriyama's early work, where he's trying to transpose Klein's style to Tokyo, was a big flop for me. He doesn't seem to have the eye of Klein and seems to capture daily life without injecting anything of himself into his work. 

It's only when Moriyama decides to venture away from mere imitation to create his own style do we see more inventive and thoughtful pieces. Capturing his studio through hundreds of close-up Polaroid snaps taken at different moments is a fascinating concept but the results are rather lifeless. 

His use of photo manipulation of the same image of a stray dog is intriguing. He shows us that just by altering the focus and sharpness of an image he can switch the dog from appearing friendly to a wild and savage beast. It's these later works that are more interesting and I wish there had been more of them.

In terms of showing us the evolution of Klein and Moriyama's work and how the former influenced the latter, this exhibition succeeds. But in terms of proving that these were two photography heavyweights, I'm not convinced. Both artists had flashes of brilliance but the majority of their work on display seems drab and uninspired.

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