William Klein, 2012 (mobile phone photo)
On 28th April I attended William Klein’s lecture, made as the recipient of the Sony Outstanding Contribution to Photography Award. Klein was being interviewed by Simon Baker, curator of photography and international art, Tate, (ahead of a book and exhibition on Klein in October 2012). I have put together a virtual pin-board of a selection of Klein’s images on http://pinterest.com/lightseeker99/william-klein/
After serving with the US Army in Paris, in 1946-48, Klein dreamt of being an artist in Paris. As a result, he attended art school with Leger. He commented that his art background, and in particular his experience of working with charcoal, meant that as a photographer, he was never bothered by blur, weak greys etc. It also influenced one of his notable techniques of producing images with soft or blurred foreground faces whilst faces in the background remained sharp.
Klein explained that in his book, New York, 1954-1955, he set out to capture the ‘something else’ of New York, not Fifth Avenue etc. He was also responsible for the book’s innovative layout which used a story boarding approach. Klein stated that he set out to capture the most documented things in the world, Times Square, electric signs etc “in his own way”.
In 1955, Klein was contracted by Vogue, despite ‘having no training or fashion photography experience, and was an outstanding success there for the next ten years.
Klein moved on to talk about his books Moscow, and Tokyo, both published in 1964. He observed that photo books were uncommon then and recalled that he had to publish in Paris as New York publishers considered his work to be ‘too grungy’. His recollections of making the Tokyo photographs were interesting. He commented that when photographing in New York, he knew that he was hitting the ‘bulls-eye’. In Tokyo, he knew nothing about the culture and didn’t know whether his images meant anything!
Klein’s work attracted the interest of Fellini
and he moved into film, becoming Fellini’s assistant, although still working in fashion photography at the same time. He commented that:
“I thought my books were films and the next steps were to make films”
and in 1966 he directed ‘Who are you Polly Maggoo’ , an ‘excoriating satire of the fashion industry’ (IMDB
Klein talked only briefly about his well known painted contact print images. He said that he set out to show the sequence, in order to demonstrate that not every photograph is perfect.
Klein’s presentation attracted a large and visually sophisticated audience and I very much enjoyed the event. Klein is one of those photographers of whom I was relatively unaware – but then recognise some of his work when I see it. Although he is now somewhat frail, he is an engaging and forthright speaker. In fact one of the things that I will take away from the presentation is his approach, his drive to be original and his determination to present his own view of the world as he sees it. I shall certainly visit the exhibition at Tate Modern later in the year.