William Klein’s urgent, radical, gritty, blurred and out of focus photographs are as dynamic and visceral as any the medium has produced. His revolutionary magnus opus ‘Life is Good & Good For You in New York’ is an uncompromising, groundbreaking portrait of urban life, which at the time of its publication in 1956 not only shocked the established order, but reinvented the photographic document and is now widely regarded as one of photography’s greatest and most influential works.
Daido Moriyama is the most celebrated photographer to emerge from the Japanese ‘Provoke’ movement. His grainy high contrast black-and-white photographs, focused on the urban environment of post-war Tokyo’s Shinjuku district, echo those of Klein’s New York. Like Klein, Moriyama has consistently revisited, reinvented and reworked his photographs within a process of constant flux.
The Tate Modern’s latest exhibition ‘William Klein + Daido Moriyama‘ brings together the work of the two photographers as a double feature—side by side retrospectives of photographers whose work is inextricably linked but independently minded.
Following Matisse, Picasso; Albers, Maholy-Nagy; Rodchenko and Popova, the show is the latest in a program of double headers at the Tate Modern that explore two artists and how their work relates to one another.
Simon Baker, the Tate Modern’s Curator of Photography and International Art, spoke with TIME about the exhibition—the first full show he has curated since joining Tate Modern.
“It’s a matter of historical record that Klein’s book on New York and then his book on Tokyo were massively influential in Japan, and so the idea of the show exploring both influence and affinity, things that [Klein and Moriyama] have in common beyond the idea of influence, is very important. We are not saying that William was the beginning of all of Moriyama’s ideas, Moriyama was really influenced by Andy Warhol. He was massively influenced by Jack Kerouac and the Beat writers. So he had this series of really interesting dissident American influences of which one of them was William Klein—and we thought this was a good starting point.
Both photographers were really involved in the show’s installations. There are certain places in the show where they had free reign to do what they wanted. William’s response was to make huge blow-ups of his pictures—which realize his constant striving for impact and to make his images as confusing and overwhelming as the cities that they are of.
Moriyama’s response was to make a huge work called Memory, which is a grid of 1.5 meter wide photographs taken from different points in his career. There are images in there from Provoke, from Farewell Photography, from Japan: a Photo Theater, but there are also things from last year or maybe two years ago. He’s similarly free with his past.
We’ve also tried on the wall to show quite large grids of work so you have the sense of looking at images on the page. We have 70 framed prints from New York—There’s a whole group of children playing like you get in the book. There’s a whole group of shots at night in ballrooms like you get in the book—and also unpublished images from the same series. You get this sense of multiplicity.
We did the same thing with Moriyama. An incredible series of prints of Japan: A Photo Theater—which was his first really important book—are actually cut, mounted as exactly the same pairs that are on the pages of the book. So you’re standing in front of 75 small prints, many of which are like the small pages of the book.
We are not suggesting that the framed works are better than the book, but just that they give you a way into the material in the book, whilst remembering that the book is the really important thing. We’ve tried to keep that balance throughout the show. They think of their work in terms of layouts and sequences and series so we’ve tried to make that a feature of the installation.
The show also focuses on what it means to photograph a great city like New York or a great city like Tokyo. And it’s interesting that Klein and Moriyama both photographed each other’s cities. Klein was a New Yorker who photographed New York and then went to Tokyo. Daido initially photographed entirely in Tokyo and then went to New York and did great work there.
Restless is the way to describe Klein’s attitude to his own work. [With Life is Good & Good For You in New York] He knows that he made a great book. And when he talks about it, he talks about wanting to change everything and he talks about blowing things up too big, making everything too grainy. Making the contrast too high. And he talks about that as a very deliberate thing. That he was trying to make a different aesthetic for photography.
Many people regard Robert Frank’s The Americans as the pinnacle of photo book-making, but Frank’s Americans doesn’t have the kind of impact, especially globally as [Life is Good & Good For You in New York]. What Klein’s book did for the way people think about photography in Latin America, in Europe and in Japan is probably unparalleled. And in that sense its greatness is hard to argue with.
But what I also think is really important and what the exhibition really claims is we’re used to thinking of the post-war 60s and 70s in a particular way, often skewed toward America. And for a long time, black-and-white photography, but particularly Japanese black-and-white photography, just wasn’t known here and wasn’t that understood. Provoke was this amazing work being made by a genuine avant-garde with theorists and thinkers and poets and writers. It was a proper thinking, functioning, avant-garde that was happening in Japan. The importance of that is beginning to be understood.
I think in another 10 years or so Moriyama, Takanashi and Nakahira will be as well known and in that moment, as well understood, as Eggleston and Friedlander.
Klein explored photography. He did some of the best photo books ever and moved on [to make films]. He moves in a very restless way, which I think is very interesting. Moriyama has been more consistent. He’s stuck very closely with photography.
The great pleasure for us and the great opportunity for Tate was to work with both of them directly. They’re both really active. Daido is doing amazing work. William’s still making photographs. He’s still interested in working. And for us; in a photography way, it is like getting to work with Matisse and Picasso while they’re still around. They are these great figures and we’re very fortunate to be able to work with them both.”
Simon Baker is the Tate Modern’s Curator of Photography and International Art
The Exhibition William Klein + Daido Moriyama is showing at Tate Modern, London from Oct. 10, 2012 – Jan. 20, 2013
Klein and Moriyama films Directed by Martin Hampton/Produced by Tate Media © TATE 2012