As cool as Klein

On my recent holiday, my obsession with snorkelling came as a revelation to my two friends; and with it, the realization that one could prefer being in the Red Sea, as much as lying, lizard-like, next to it. In other words, when there are fish involved, I opt for sea over sun. I find the underwater world fascinating (Little Mermaid topped my Disney playlist) and the so-called sport of snorkelling supports my “naturally inquisitive” (nosey) nature – looking in, but with those below not fully aware of your presence; people-watching on a far more exotic and coral-framed scale. Imagine my surprise and delight when, on Monday, I experienced some snorkelling deja-vu when I was submerged into the new tanks and turbines of Tate Modern to swim with the big fish of the art world for a new exhibition opening.

It was the opening night of William Klein and Daido Moriyama’s photography exhibition – an installation that not only inspired me to accost my Nikon, but also go lens-frontside and pull a trout-pout or sharky grin. The images were confrontational in their subjects’ awareness of the camera, as they worked their angles like the clownfish I saw, making the most of a shipwreck playground and delighting those in tailored jackets and brogues (alas no goggles) watching them, fifty decades on. A clever use of shutter speed and inventive techniques also added to originality and “one moment in time” transcience of the images on show; and I loved how the juxtaposition and interweaving layout of the gallery space emphasised this.

The two photographers explored the reality of modern urban life – capturing street life and political protest, from anti-war demonstrations and gay pride marches to the effects of globalisation and urban deprivation. Klein’s New York was not the one of the tourist postcard, but one that focused on the city’s inhabitants; making you want to be part of it and the outsider all at once – to put a marine metaphor on it, the not-pretty world of coral bleaching and shark-on-shark. In the 1950s, Klein sought out to re-invent the photographic document – blurry, out of focus, high contrast and high-grain films all contributed to his reputation as the anti-photographer’s photographer. As such, this small fish in the art world, likes the irony of how “being anti” translates to post-modernism cool.

The exhbition is open at Tate Modern until 20th January 2013.

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