Tate Modern, Oct 2012



A generation ago it would have been inconceivable that Tate Modern would allocate gallery space to street photographers like William Klein or Daido Moriyama, but now both merit retrospectives. Street, where often the key discourses are overlooked by academics, or else where the work is viewed for wit by Sunday supplement readers. It is easy to forget how remarkable a turnaround this has been.

The critical position of the past in regard to street work seems to have dissipated, perhaps with the reach of CCTV and a new audience increasingly receptive to images with actual people in as a counterpoint to constructed scenes with posed models. It is interesting to compare beyond this show and to Garry Winogrand's Women are Beautiful, to see differences in the compulsive aspect to the male gaze. Whereas with Klein this aspect is much less evident, and it is in' performative encounters' where the diverse impulses and urges of others are sometimes laid bare.

The problem with this show is that the vision of both photographers is, to different degrees, intimate, absorbing and small scale and despite some curating theatrics is fairly lost in these vast galleries. In an accompanying video Klein says that his whole career of significant shots (taken at 1/250th of a second) add up to a mere two seconds in total of work. Whilst an extreme perspective of the technical reality, it is not the full story - when the process of finding a voice and pursuing it requires commitment across years or a lifetime even. But admittedly, photographing on the street, where it costs nothing and when the pretensions of the work are modest, the challenge of scale does prove a little too much here.

For Moriyama, apart from a mid-career sojourn of drug addiction, with found cameras and found subjects he was 'never bored' and possibly redeemed. Making photos as an existential response. In his best work there is a certain kind of black that explains everything. It is not quite a despairing black, not defeated. Especially when printed on the cheaper matt paper in some of his books, your fingers touch these matt black-stained pages and you feel a connection to him lingering on your skin afterwards. And all other tonalities, even the scorched, murmuring whites of neon signs and car headlights, exist just to emphasise those black voids, where the beat of a life somehow remains.

 

 

(until 20th Jan 2013)