Monday, 14 January 2013

A Photographer or Two's Eye on the City

Last Friday night, I went along with a friend to see the photography exhibition currently showing at the Tate Modern, which brings together the work of the American William Klein and Japanese Daido Moriyama. I have to confess to not having known of either of them prior to this visit (though some of Klein's work seemed vaguely familiar) but I'm so glad I went along because the exhibition was fantastic and I made some new discoveries.

It was off to a good start with a room screening a short film called Broadway by Light, which was a 1950s spectacular celebrating New York's neon signage. I love the pop artness of old school neon...

Screen shot from Klein's Broadway by Light (Image source)

In the next room, my friend and I both fell in love with, and stood momentarily mesmerised by this picture:

Evelyn, Isabella, Nina and Mirrors, for Vogue (Image source)

Isn't it wonderful? I absolutely love the composition of it, the backdrop, everything...

Like England's own David Bailey and Norman Parkinson, William Klein was breaking convention in the 1950s/1960s by taking his fashion models out of the safety of the studio and into edgy, urban settings.

We then watched a fascinating video in which the photographer himself talked through the process of selecting one photo over another, and what makes a photo work.

Mai 1968, Paris (Image source)

The selection process turned into an art form itself, as Klein found that marking up contact sheets with red pencil wasn't clear enough and that enamel paint was much more effective...

Painted contact sheet (Image source)

The exhibition also explored Klein's abstract art beginnings and his transition into photography.

Vertical Diamonds (Image source)

Dorothy blowing smoke rings (Image source)

This was also the section in which I learnt that Mondrian, famous for his contribution to the De Stijl movement, with his primary colour blocking, geometric paintings, began life painting rural scenes... I've still so much to learn about art... But that's rather an invigorating and exciting thought, knowing that there's endless things to discover. I got home and looked up Mondrian's early work on the interwebs and sure enough:

One of Mondrian's earlier works (Image source)

The exhibition then segued into Moriyama's work. Generally, I preferred the section on Klein but the Moriyama half also had a lot to offer. 

Hippie Crime by Moriyama (Image source)

Although, much of his work centred on people, snapped in street scenes, he also concentrated a lot on objects, spotting and focusing in on minor details in the environment (both urban and natural) to create wonderfully textured, almost abstract photographs, picking up lines and light and shadow.

I couldn't help but think how overwhelming the beauty of the world must be if you are constantly looking at it in the way he must be doing, in order to spot so many gem-like, rich details. I sometimes engage in the world on that level and it makes me feel like my head might explode, wanting to absorb and retain all the beauty and detail. To constantly be engaged like that must be wonderful but exhausting!

Not seen in the exhibition but I couldn't resist... Echos of Gatsby, and the eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg, anyone?
(Image source)

My favourite part of the Moriyama section was a room covered in polaroids, which made up a scene of a room interior, shot piece by piece and panelled together. I can't quite explain it, nor can I find a good picture of it to share with you. You'll just have to believe me that it had a wonderful effect.

We finished up the exhibition watching short films in which each of the photographers was interviewed. In the film on Moriyama, he talked about how he loves the intensity of the city and the whirl of humanity, that he is addicted to the city and couldn't photograph without it. Reading about fellow blogger, Kelly-Marie's recent relocation to the seaside, where she quoted a beautiful extract from Anais Nin, made me momentarily resent the city... but this exhibition reminded me again why I adore it and thrive on it.


  1. I've been to see the Exhibition twice! Like you I prefer Klein...his street photography is superb!!! I'm glad you liked it too.I keep meaning to see if I can get hold of a copy of Broadway By Light to watch all the through...enchanting

    1. It's definitely an exhibition that would qualify for a return visits, even if only to make sure you got to see all the films all the way through. I found Broadway by Light on You Tube - that's where I got the screen shot from. Sure, You Tube's not the highest of quality but it's better than nothing!

  2. Ah yes, Mondriaan, his voyage from figurative to abstract painting is a very clear one, good examples are his evolving versions of apple trees (appelboom in Dutch) and the sea (zee).

    I really like that picture of Paris. I fond of photographs that have many stories going on in one frame. :-)

    1. Oh, yes, I found the apple trees and you could absolutely see the transitioning between styles in them. I was tempted to include some of those images as well but thought the post was getting long enough as it was! But I was fascinated and delighted. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  3. Oh how I would adore the chance to attend this wonderful show, as you've got another fan of Klein in me here. His photo "Anouk Aimee" from the early 60s has always stood out as one of my favourite images of that era.

    ♥ Jessica

    1. He's definitely one I'll need to look into more... and one I was ashamed not to know of before the exhibition as soon as I saw his wonderful pictures. I'm more familiar with his British contemporaries but I will have to work on that gap in knowledge!