William Klein

William Klein is a photographer I’ve written about on several occasions, though not recently. He found his home in Paris, and his work does appear to have had a particular resonance with the French rather more than on this side of the channel. I’ve made brief references to him in some of my pieces on Paris Photo in past years, and in particular the comparison between his work and that of Japanese photographers particularly Daido Moriyama.

Here are a couple of paragraphs from a longish essay about him I polished for publication in 2000:

One man, Henri Cartier-Bresson, with his idea of the ‘decisive moment’, catching that fleeting instant when everything in the frame was dynamically balanced, dominated photography, particularly in Europe, in the early 1950s. Although he appreciated this work, Klein wanted to photograph in his own way; in the spirit of the defiant iconoclasm he had acquired from Leger he determined to turn Cartier-Bresson’s approach on its head. Rules were there only to be broken.

Cartier-Bresson had attempted to melt into the background, to become an ‘invisible man’ or ‘fly on the wall’, unnoticed by his subjects. Klein often talked to the people as he was photographing them, sometimes almost literally pushing the camera in their face to generate a reaction. Cartier-Bresson never cropped, so Klein often or always did. Klein abandoned the idea of careful and considered composition in favour of chance and the grabbed shot, often blurred or out of focus. His printing was harsh and gutsy, at times more graphic than photographic in effect, often extremely grainy as his negatives were often severely over-exposed (few photographers used a meter in those days, relying on experience – and Klein was short on this.) The pictures that resulted were raw, edgy, vibrant and nothing like most people at the time expected of a photograph.

Of course it isn’t quite true that HC-B never cropped – possibly his best-known image is of a man trying to jump a puddle is quite severely cropped. But  it was a part of the legend – just like the ‘fact’ he always used a standard lens.

On The Online Photographer you can read Klein and the Anti-Technicians, the most recent of the two features a year that John Kennerdell contributes to the site, which places Klein in the history of photography, particularly for his influence on the ‘Provoke‘ group of Japanese photographers. It’s well worth reading.

On the Reporters sans frontières web site, William Klein pour la liberté de la presse, one of a series by a number of photographers appears still to be available for €5.79 EUR and the ‘Books on Books’ Errata edition of his William Klein: Life is Good & Good for You in New York can still be found for a reasonable price, although the original sells for over $500.

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