William Klein

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William Klein

Head On Foundation , 13 Sep 2022

Image credit: Moshe Rosenzveig OAM, exhibition view of William Klein retrospective exhibition at PHotoESPAÑA, 2019

 

“Klein broke half the rules of photography and ignored the other half,”   
- Jim Lewis, Slate magazine, 2003.  

 

The revolutionary photographer, filmmaker, writer and artist William Klein died on the 10th of September in his Paris home, aged 96.  

Though Manhattan-born William had long settled in Paris, marrying his wife, Jeanna Florin, when they were 18 and starting a family there, William staunchly held onto his ‘American in Paris’ identity.   

He was always a fish-out-of-water, and perhaps this is what made William’s photography so compelling. Though often hidden within the hustle and bustle of urban life; each of William’s photographs can be boiled down to stories as old as time; good vs evil, love vs despair, action vs idleness, black vs white. Palpable tension between dualling forces is present in each frame.  

Image credit: Moshe Rosenzveig OAM, exhibition view of William Klein retrospective exhibition at PHotoESPAÑA, 2019

It didn’t matter if he was taking fashion images for Vogue or making documentary films; William was always searching for the controversy within a composition, the this-vs-that – even if people didn’t want to see it.   

As William said of his most famous film exploit, Muhammad Ali, the Greatest, “So-called battles between good and evil have always obsessed me … Here was Cassius Clay, a clean-cut American. But he became the bad guy because he was Black and had a big mouth. No one took him seriously. When I did Part I of the film, everybody hated it. Everybody hated him until Zaire.”  

Klein was a ‘wrong place, wrong time’ photographer who basked in the inopportune. At the beginning of his career, his photographs were criticised as mistakes – and Klein probably would have agreed. To him, the world’s great cities, New York, Paris, Tokyo, Moscow, and Rome, were just a jumble of concentrated mistakes, blurring faces, flashing teeth, blinking eyes, violent energies and people moving in and out of frame. His photo-books, such as the famous, Life Is Good & Good for You in New York: Trance Witness Revels (1956), were heavily criticised in America for their blurry/over-exposed aesthetics but were embraced in Paris for their avant-garde pursuits. He committed every sin in the photographers' handbook, and his blasphemy forever changed the photography world.

 

Image credit: Moshe Rosenzveig OAM, exhibition view of William Klein retrospective exhibition at PHotoESPAÑA, 2019

William Klein satirised street photography, fashion photography and tabloid sensationalism, destroying the old rules for photographers and leaving no new ones in their place.

It makes sense that William Klein won his first camera in a poker game. His photography was always a gamble, often bluffing on an empty hand till he convinced the world he was winning from the start.   

William will be remembered for always being all-in. 

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