Sue Steward on William Klein + Daido Moriyama
- 17th Oct 2012
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William Klein, Smoke + Veil, Paris 1958
When I left the Telegraph newspaper over a decade ago, my editor presented me with a large framed photograph of a little girl standing in a New York street, smiling at the camera. It was a William Klein print. I was overwhelmed by it but also laughed because my generous team had given me a blurry, grainy image of the kind that irritated them whenever I tried to sneak a blurry, grainy photograph onto the page without them noticing. While I knew that newsprint didn’t share my passion for blur, I was also aware that sharpness of detail and clarity of printing was already being challenged as Magnum’s Cartier-Bresson orthodoxy began losing its hold. William Klein was already a maverick and Daido Moriyama unaffected by such rules.
Two decades on, and Tate Modern’s first Curator of Photography, Simon Baker has designed and built an exhibition which will be a landmark in UK photography. William Klein’s retrospective was the original plan but Baker went for a double-hander, combining the American with Tokyo’s fellow multi-media artist, Moriyama who was greatly influenced by Klein as a young man. The exhibition separates the two artists but is designed to make a visual dialogue across the vast gallery space.
The result is one of the most brilliantly innovative exhibition designs I’ve seen, and a collection of work which will be remembered for decades. It will also extend its influence on young and emerging photographers for decades. The scale is huge and left me overwhelmed but not exhausted in spite of viewing over 300 images, watching films, staring into books and magazines for their photographs and abstract designs, and looking high up at grids of images and blown-up abstracts hanging on walls of cathedral scale, as well as those early abstract paintings and painted contact sheets.
William Klein, Dance Happening, Tokyo 1961 Daido Moriyama, Japan Theatre Photo Album, 1968
The pairing of Klein with Moriyama was an obvious choice; as a young Tokyo artist’s ideas were shaken up after discovering Klein’s now legendary photo-book, “Life is Good and Good For You is New York”, 1955. The first in a series of so-called “guides,” it also included Moscow, Tokyo and Rome. Photo-books are portable versions of exhibitions, and the greeting in the gallery’s first room is a huge frieze of four scenes in ordinary street in Paris, Rome and Moscow, which faces the gallery’s massive space and a facing grid of Tokyo’s street images. A dialogue has been initiated between the two men.
© William Klein, Barbershop, New York 1961, for Vogue Magazine
By the 1950s, Klein has an international reputation for his rule-breaking outdoor fashion shoots for American and French Vogue and his embedding abstract shapes into the scene, a modern approach to the pictograms of earlier. At the same time, Moriyama was developing his future dark, signature style heavily influenced by the post-War horror he grew up with, and was being eagerly followed by the politics and aesthetics of his generation. The two men met in 1980.
Klein’s half of the gallery is filled with the hundreds of stories held in his foggy, grainy prints and the over-painted contact sheets which fill a room, and abstract pictogram designs filling another, produced without cameras and first made in the earliest years before he switched from paint brush to camera.
William Klein, Vertical Diamonds 1953 to 2012
His magazines including the influential Domus who hired him to design covers, exploited his passion for lettering, graphic design and the geometric shapes of Japanese calligraphy and evident influence from the Rodchenko’s early Constructivist style used on hoarding and packaging. Klein shot them off food packaging, advertising hoardings and tabloid newspaper headlines and here, a room is lined with their enlarged, incomprehensible letter messages which subsequently influenced some pop artists and record sleeve designers.
William Klein, Gun Gun Gun, New York 1955
One of the most popular sections of Klein’s exhibitions features enlarged contact prints which were once used like Polaroids, as intermediaries for a finished photograph. A red wax pencil marked ‘X’ on the final choice but he converted the sheet from throwaway to an art object by enlarging the subject or subjects and framing the chosen one with thick, brush smears of gloss paint. The iconic “Smoke + Veil, 1958” was converted from an ordinary print, used as a book cover image to a triptych of the same model blowing smoke, inside the original contact sheet of several images. Adding the painted frame utterly transforms the original image and dramatizes or exaggerates its beauty, meaning or aggression. There was a strong link with Warhol’s repetitive prints which Klein in turn, imitated with rows of coke bottles and other objects.
In Moriyama’s half of the gallery, the range of work is equally diverse and multi-media and extends from vast grids of black and white and colour prints which work like books of short stories, smaller dark, mysterious street scenes richly illustrated in the flowing imagesdisplayed in his photo-books which today dominate the photographic print in Japan.
Daido Moriyama, Tights
His famed “Tights” and “Lips” - erotic close-ups poetically depicting many aspects of womens’bodies; a room of Polaroids carrying memories and surprisingly, colour. His occasional departures from the city again pause the Japanese tradition for poetic images of nature and particularly cherry blossoms which he converts into menacing cinematic scenes, as dark as Don McCullin’s flowers. Moriyama’s mysterious street photographs contrast with Klein for his interest in the characters he photographs, while Moriyama’s impose an existential darkness (literally) on his subjects, under influence of the late writer and friend, Yukio Mishima.
© Daido Moriyama, Shinjuku Station from Japan: A Photo Theatre 1968
Daido Moriyama, Stray dog, Misawa, 1971
His prints are not only super grainy but also dark and heavily over-inked but suitably strangely composed for their subjects – a feral dog fills a large frame and in Moriyama’s new book, faces an equally feral man, crouching on a pavement; in the Tokyo streets and roads, he hones in on rubbish bags, wet pavements, crashed cars printed as dark as negatives, and lit up factories and skyscrapers which veer to abstraction.
His notoriety for the erotic and explicit works - which thankfully avoids the torturous realms of some Araki images - close in on womens’ bodies in dimly lit rooms, the poetic scene of a naked woman smoking on a hotel bed, the glowing tip of her cigarette an added erotic detail. While photography always possesses an element of voyeurism, Moriyama’s erotic elements expose physically the mind of a writer which would be more private and not necessarily identifiable as his own.
Daido Moriyama, 'Provoke' no 2, 1969
Moriyama’s “Tights & Lips” series is currently showing at the Michael Hoppen Gallery (www.michaelhoppengallery.com until 20 October). It offers the chance to move quietly amongst the close-ups of sculpted legs and thighs encased in fish-net tights, so close in many cases as to confuse the identity of the parts of the woman’s body. Glossed up and slightly parted lips have been enlarged to fill the frames, images taken advertising hoardings, newspaper pages and real women in the streets or on trains and intentionally erotic and anonymous.
Klein’s “Paintings, etc” exhibition at London’s Hacklebury Gallery (www.hacklebury.co.uk until 20 December), offers an informative story of different eras of his work, inclluding a unique collection of paintings which led his to pick up a camera. The early 1950s Letterist Mural Projects create bright designs invented in the Madmen era for new design styles and advertising calligraphy. They mix with 1960s fashion photographs on the street, including the gorgeous Dorothy blowing light smoke rings, Paris where an assistant swings a light to create that beautiful abstract swirl of ‘smoke.’ One of the many important aspects of this exhibition is that it is a reminder of how long ago it was that the two maverick and genius rule-breakers transformed the vocabulary and language of photography universally spoken and applied today.
Author: Sue Steward
Sue Steward also writes a column for WPO. View it here.