William Klein and Daido Moriyama: Two artists, two cities at Tate Modern

By Sean Jordan | 23 October 2012
A black and white photo of a young boy sitting against a wall in a hectic urban setting
William Klein, Candy Store, New York (1955)© William Klein
Exhibition Review: William Klein + Daido Moriyama, Tate Modern, London, until January 20 2013

A tale of two cities and two artists comes to Tate in this overview of the work of William Klein and Daido Moriyama.

Spanning more than 50 years, the exhibition examines the relationship between Klein, one of the 20th century’s most ambitious photographers and filmmakers, and Moriyama, the most celebrated photographer to emerge from the turbulent 'Provoke era' of post war Japanese photography.

A black and white photo of a woman crossing a busy urban street in an elegant dress
William Klein, Piazza di Spagna, Rome (1960)© William Klein
Looking at the way each artist has explored modern urban life, the vast and hectic cities of New York and Tokyo both come under the spotlight.

Klein’s film Broadway by Light, faces the entrance. This depiction of New York as a seedy swamp of advertising, filled with gaudy neon signs and adverts flying toward the camera has echoes of the frequent forays made by Martin Scorcese and Stanley Kubrick into the sleazier side of society.

Kubrick has made the comparison himself, and expressed admiration for Klein's work.

Klein’s photography has an intentionally grainy quality, as if there is a constant fog hanging over New York.

With the overabundance of advertising shoving its way into so many of his frames, the city becomes clogged and overflowing.

A black and white arty photo of skyscraper buildings in a city street at night
Daido Moriyama, Another Country in New York (1971)© Daido Moriyama/ Tokyo Polytechnic University
This type of repressive atmosphere inevitably leads to sudden outbursts and explosions, and each artist explores the protests and chaos of the streets. With everything happening today, their work is nothing if not prescient.

Where Klein seems to be interested in more specific targets, notably commercialism, Moryama's work seems more fluid. He has said there “is no artistry, I just shoot freely.”

His work includes a collage of Polaroids piecing together street scenes and, like Klein's work, his photography has a grainy, dreamlike quality to it. Both photographers make you feel like you have been thrown into the crowd at street level, as if to say: “this is the real city – now live it.”

Both also seem to enjoy mixing innocence with aggression. In many of Klein's works the recurring image of a child pointing a gun at the camera becomes unsettling, Moriyama pefers to unsettle by making the child face away from the viewer.

There is a ferociousness lurking beneath the surface of these photographs, and as viewer and voyeur you are made complicit in it.

Perhaps the sense of urgency is timeless, a reflection of the abundance of life at street level. As you walk through the exhibition you are thrown in at the deep end, much like walking through a metropolis.

  • Open 10am-6pm (10pm Friday and Saturday). Tickets £10.90-£14. Book online. Follow the gallery on Twitter @Tate.

More pictures:

A black and white edited photo of a dog on a city street staring back into the camera
Daido Moriyama, Misawa (1971)© Daido Moriyama

A black and white photo of a girl laughing into the camera in a city park with people
William Klein, Bikini, Moscow (1959)© William Klein
An abstract collage black and white photo of a pair of lips fading into a whirr of black
Daido Moriyama, Tokyo (2011)© Daido Moriyama. Courtesy Daido Moriyama Photo Foundation

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