Klein and Moriyama

Posted on January 3, 2013


I have now been to Tate Modern’s Klein/Moriyama exhibition twice. I have delayed posting my thoughts on the exhibition because I was unsure if I might go again as part of the OCA Study Visit – I am on the waiting list for this. It now seems unlikely that I will be attending the OCA event so I thought I should post my thoughts.

I found the exhibition one of the most compelling I’ve visited. The coverage of the two artist/photographers is  comprehensive and the layout of the work stunning. The space is divided into two areas – one for each photographer. That said it is possible to look through the gaps in the partitions to see the work of Klein from the Moriyama space and vice versa – a great way implying the influence that Klein had on Moriyama. The exhibits include photographs, film, and slideshows and despite my expectations included some work in colour as well as the expected black and white. Some of the works are presented as huge prints.

Klein Moriyama-1

Klein Moriyama Exhibition Tate Modern December 2012

I have long been a great admirer of Klein’s photographs and books. I have for some time several of his books  in my collection  – Klein+Paris (Klein, 2002 ) and William Klein: Rome (Klein, 2009), Contacts (Klein & Delpire, 2008) and my pride and joy the reprint of Life is Good and Good for You in New York (Klein, 2010). Since attending the exhibition I have now added his exhibition book, William Klein ABC (Klein & Campany, 2012).

Klein’s oeuvre is monumental. He began  his artistic career as a painter, moved on to use  photographic media to produce abstract photograms, launched himself into photography dynamically producing unique interpretations of contemporary life in major cities in which “harnessed every ‘bad’ technique to his expressionist vision” (Klein & Campany 2012, pp 5), adapted this unique photographic style to fashion photography, moved on yet again to make films, revisited his photography and represented his work in mixed media form and he is still innovating today well into his 80s.

Throughout Klein has found new ways to present his art/photography. His photo books were groundbreaking. Not for him was the  single photograph with a white border on alternate pages used by Robert Frank in The Americans (Frank, 1959). Klein’s books are a riot of images of different sizes, with fast moving sequences, full bleed double spreads, multiple images on a page  – no two pages are alike. This form of presentation echoed and reinforced the riotous and fast moving nature of his photographs.

His move into film was a natural progression opening up a new channel for presenting his ideas. And his representation of his contact sheets as giant prints surrounded by colourful paint is typical of his continuing search for ways to grab the attention of the viewer. Klein never allowed himself to become a servant of the artistic conventions of the day. He always seems to have been a rebel and well ahead of his time. This is undoubtedly why his early photo books were not well received – his presentation of New York as dirty, edgy and falling apart, for example, was too close to the truth for people to accept at the time it was produced.

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William Klein Contact Sheets – Klein Moriyama Exhibition Tate Modern December 2012

The exhibition also screened a number of Klein’s films. In the entrance lobby of the exhibition his first movie made in 1958.  Broadway by Light is a homage to the shimmering neon lights which fill Manhattan’s theatre district. Flashing lights, scrolling signs and colourful abstract shapes fill the screen. As with much of Klein’s work it was ahead of its time. It’s tone was “exactly what would come to define pop art” (Klein & Campany, pp 6). His films are as direct as his photography, taking as their subjects social issues within contemporary society. He parodies the excesses of the Fashion Industry in Are You Polly Magoo, grapples with racism in his two movies about Cassius Clay (Mohammed Ali). In Mister Freedom he presents an uncompromising and energetic satire of America’s imperialist fantasy, religious repression and celebrity worship.

Mr Freedom by William Klein Klein/Moriyama Exhibition Tate Modern December 2012

Mr Freedom by William Klein Klein/Moriyama Exhibition Tate Modern December 2012

In another small room there is a documentary film about Klein from the Contacts series televised on the French channel Arte details of which can be found here. It is a great little film. Klein provides some insight into his image selection and general approach to his street photography. What is particularly interesting is the degree to which he admits that great photographs are often accidents. It is also fascinating to see how he is attracted to one image rather than another because of small details.

What I liked about the way in which Klein’s work was displayed was the pace and variety of the gallery show. Just as Klein did in his own work the displays do not conform to a rigid pattern. There are huge images high on the walls, cinema displays providing visual variety and lots of background noise. There are grids of closely grouped photographs which add to the intensity of the viewing experience. And as I mentioned earlier it is possible to look over some of the partitions to get a glimpse of the work of perhaps Klein’s best known follower, Moriyama.

Moving from the hustle and bustle of the Klein displays one enters the areas of the exhibition set aside for Moriyama’s work. My immediate impression was that the presentation in the first room was much more conventional. With smaller photographs in black frames on the wall….the curators seemed to want to signal the differences between the photographers straight away. On the first wall photographs from Moriyama’s first book Japan A Photo Theatre were displayed.

Japan A Photo Theatre by Daido Moriyama Klein/Moriyama Exhibition Tate Modern December 2012

Japan A Photo Theatre by Daido Moriyama Klein/Moriyama Exhibition Tate Modern December 2012

Moriyama inherited Klein’s fascination with the city and it seems to me took it one step further. His images are fragments of everyday life out on the streets, but unlike Klein whose work is well resolved and in your face, Moriyama’s photographs are often abstract and hard to penetrate.

I thought I knew something of Moriyama’s work before going to the exhibition, but I now realise that in reality I knew nothing. I had a copy of his book Shinjuku 19XX-20XX (Moriyama, 2005). My impression was that he was a Japanese street photographer….what I found was that his work extends far beyond this limited definition.

Moriyama’s first published work Japan A Photo Theatre  brings together a ‘a seamless blend of portraiture, performance documentation, urban documentary and landscape work’ (Moriyama & Baker, pp 17). This in itself shows Moriayama to be a thoughtful and versatile photographer. But the sheer variety and depth of the work presented at this exhibition really surprised me.

The publication of Japan A Photo Theatre  was a breakthrough for Moriyama in 1968. Around that time he also worked with two other photographers on a short lived magazine called Provoke. This association had a significant influence on Moriyama’s photography. On a simplistic level the work of the Provoke  photographers is characterised by the grainy, blurry, out of focus aesthetic (ari, bure, boke in Japanese). Their approach however goes much deeper than simply  aesthetic style.

Moriyama’s 1972 essay Farewell Photography  is probably his work which takes this approach to the extreme. Many of the photographs appear to be damaged, or scraps of negatives, or printing failures or so out of focus and grainy it is difficult to see what they are about. In one of the essays at the start of the exhibition book Minoru Shimizu suggests that Moriyama photographed in this way as “a means to erase the photographer’s self, his thoughts and subjective intentions” (Moriyama & Baker, pp 60). The idea of this was to allow some kind of unmediated reality to show through. Interestingly, Takuma Nakahira, who was perhaps the key thinker behind Provoke, later withdrew from the ‘ari bure b0ke’ style because he came to believe that it invoked a sense of poetry and atmosphere. He shifted to a style of ‘naturalness’. I have to say that I think he had a point. Whenever I look at Moriyama’s images I do not sense an alternative reality but they do invoke a subjective emotional response from me.

Photograph from Farewell Photography by Daido Moriyama Tate Modern December 2012

Photograph from Farewell Photography by Daido Moriyama Tate Modern December 2012

The diversity and depth of Moriyama’s practice is very well represented at the exhibition. He began his career documenting everyday life in 1960s Tokyo. He went on as indicated above to push the photographic medium to its limits with Farewell Photography  and other work in the 1970s. In the 80s he explored the way light and shadow defines form and shape with his Light and Shadows(1981). He has produced many city based publications Another Country in New York  being perhaps the most well known. His Tales of Tono represented a departure from the urban environment and seems much more sentimental to me – it is a record of his search for his home town referencing a Japanese folk tale.

Moriyama mostly worked in black and white film but more recently has also explored the use of colour and digital media. Perhaps one of the most surprising exhibits is his polaroid collage of his studio, which fills a whole room and looks like a monster David Hockney ‘joiner’. All of the above and more is shown at the Tate Modern exhibition. There is frankly too much to take in. Moriyama’s work fascinates me. So much so that I have bought a number of his books. These are listed below. I also have a copy of Memories of a Dog  which a kind of autobiographical account. Moriyama photographed a rough, angry looking street dog many years ago and the dog has come to signify him personally.

Memories of a dog Daido Moriyama Tate Modern December 2012

Memories of a dog Daido Moriyama Tate Modern December 2012

It is impossible to look at Moriyama’s work without considering the way it was intended to be displayed. In Japan the principle means of showing photographs is through the photo book. These come in all shapes, sizes and designs, ranging from simple Xerox and staple constructions to beautiful hand made books. The exhibition embeds the photo book into the show. Copies of many of Moriyama’s books are displayed throughout. Interestingly quite a few come from Martin Parr’s collection. I became so interested in this method of presenting photographs that I bought  the book Japanese Photobooks of the 1950s and 70s (Kaneko & Varanian, 2009) This is an excellent book which opened my eyes to the variety of forms of presentation offered by this medium. I have to confess that my impression that all these books would be in the full page bleed, high contrast black and white style proved naive and ill-informed.

I also bought a book Toshi-e (Towards the City)  by Yutaka Takanashi, which is very highly regarded. Takanashi was a contemporary of Moriyama’s at Provoke. Japanese Photo Books is a subject which I plan to return to at a later stage and when I do I intend to look again at Moriyama’s work. These researches are well outside the scope of my portraiture brief for the Advanced work, so for now I will need to put it to one side.

Overall, I got a huge amount out of this exhibition. From Klein, I learned that to keep one’s practice alive it is vital to keep innovating whilst staying true to ones core values. From Moriyama, I learned that I should never allow aesthetic style to divert me from looking deeper at an image. Both have opened my eyes to innovative ways of showing one’s work. But most of all both have inspired me by the fact that even they are now well into old age they are still out there creating work and enjoying their photography.


Frank R. (1959) The Americans New York: Grove Press

Klein W. & Campany D. (2012) William Klein ABC London: Tate Publishing

Klein W. & Delpire R. (2008 ) Contacts Rome: Contrasto

Klein W. (2002)  Klein+Paris London: Salenstein: Braus

Klein W. (2010) Life is Good and Good for You in New York New York: Errata editions

Klein W. (2009)  William Klein: Rome London: Thames & Hudson

Kaneko R. & Varanian I. (2009) Japanese Photobooks of the 1950s and 70s New York: Aperture

Moriyama D.& Baker S. (Ed.) (2012) Daido Moriyama London: Tate Publishing

Moriyama D. (2012) Labyrinth  New York: Aperture

Moriyama D. (2004) Memories of a Dog Tuscon: Nazraeli Press

Moriyama D. (2005) Shinjuku 19XX-20XX Zurich: Codax

Moriyama D. (2012) Tales of Tono London: Tate Publishing

Moriyama D. & Maggia F.(Ed.) (2010) The World through My Eyes Milan: Skira

Takanashi Y. (2010) Toshi-e (Towards the City) New York: Errata editions