Starting with his book Life is Good & Good for You in New York (New York, 1954-1955), William Klein introduced a very new style of street photography: gritty, in your face, out of focus, blurred. He looked at people, usually in large groups, and there is an amazing depth to his photos, with crowds of faces stretching off into the distance, and while most of them will be watching something going on out of shot, there are always one or two people looking straight into the camera. Klein is known for interacting with his subjects as well, giving them subtle directions about how to act, and then photographing the result (think of Gun 1).
Klein had no formal training in photography. After getting out of the Army, he settled in Paris and studied painting under the cubist master Fernand Leger. From his paintings in the late-1940s, he moved into abstract photography, painting with light. This brought him to the attention of Vogue Magazine. Vogue funded Klein’s trips abroad, and over the space of about a decade, he released four seminal photobooks: New York (1956), Rome (1958), Tokyo (1964), and Moscow (1964). During this time, Klein was working for Vogue as a fashion photographer, something he did until 1965 when he was let go due to his burgeoning career as a filmmaker. His reaction was to make the film Who Are You, Polly Maggoo?, a hidden gem of the French New Wave and scathing insider’s look at the French fashion scene at the time, and the nature of celebrity. Klein has directed two other features, as well as many sorts and documentaries, the most recent of which was released in 1999.
Klein returned to photography in 1990 with Torino ’90, as well as releasing retrospective books like Close Up and In and Out of Fashion. The cover for Torino ’90 featured a glimpse of Klein’s new direction in art, that of printing his contact sheets and turning them into colorful paintings, mimicking the way photographers have chosen pictures to print by marking up their own contact sheets. In 2012, the BBC made a documentary, The Many Lives of William Klein, featuring new interviews, and footage of him in action as on old man. I don’t know what he’s up to currently, but it’s good to know he’s still alive and kicking.
For my own attempts to capture the essence of William Klein, I returned to that fogged and expired 100′ roll of Tri-X from Y2K, and (with the exception of one picture that was taken earlier, no. 6) used the Olympus Trip 35, using its technological limitations to my advantage. It opts for smaller apertures for better focusing, but is still zone focusing; the shutter defaults to 1/40sec below a certain light level, allowing me to incorporate blur as well, when needed, and the 40mm lens allowed me to take in a larger scene. The camera itself is compact and very quiet, easy to take with you anywhere you feel like, grocery stores, thrift stores, class, concerts. I even took it to the Denver Art Museum.
Was I successful? I’d say not entirely, but I’ll continue to work on it, by extending the masters study into my final project. There’s a definite difference between people who live here compared to a big city like New York, Tokyo, etc; they respect personal space a lot more, and it makes it harder to get many people in the frame. I think I could work on interacting with the people more, and I need to shoot outdoors to a greater extent as well. So those are the goals, and I need to get back out there now…