A Tribute To Legendary Photographer And Artist William Klein
Street photographer, fashion photographer, painter, graphic designer, abstract artist, writer, filmmaker, book maker; few have left their mark in as many fields of art and culture as William Klein. One of the great image makers of the 20th century, his work has had an enduring creative influence on the work of many contemporary artists, photographers, filmmakers and the art industry as a whole. It is with immense sadness to learn of the passing of such a legend like William Klein (1928-2022), this article serves as a tribute to celebrate Klein and his great works.
“If I look back, I think most of the things I did – the films, the books, the collaborations with these magazines – were mostly by accident.” - William Klein
Born in 1928, the American-born French photographer and filmmaker studied painting and never received formal training in photography. He eventually turned to photography after winning his first camera in a poker game. He then went on to become one of the most influential photographers of his generation, known for channelling the kineticism of cities such as New York, Paris, Tokyo and Moscow in his work.
“I photograph what I see in front of me.”
Klein never tried to be invisible, he made himself present by striking up conversations with whoever he met. What came out of these little exchanges were photographs full of spontaneous poses and teeming with anonymous characters.
“I came from the outside, the rules of photography didn’t interest me. There were things you could do with a camera that you couldn't do with any other medium—grain, contrast, blur, cock-eyed framing, eliminating or exaggerating grey tones and so on. I thought it would be good to show what's possible, to say that this is as valid of a way of using the camera as conventional approaches.”
Perhaps it is the lack of formal education in photography and the lack of conventional frameworks that gave him the freedom to make “mistakes” as his iconic photography style. Uncompromising, ambitions and to the point, Klein’s photographs presented human subjects in their rawest form. Images of boys wielding toy guns, women in bulky coats in front of cigarette ads, scowling faces seen closeup and out of focus, young men brandishing weapons at point-blank range, sometimes off-centered and with boosted contrast.
Klein’s imagery is said to be inspired by tabloid sensationalism, overturning established styles in street and fashion photography. On the streets, his photographs are a cacophony of black and white, a blizzard of charcoal grain and smudged grey shapes, veering between the formal and the fuzzy, driven by chance and chaos. In fashion, Klein was one of the first to depict models outside of studio backdrops, his acerbic and satirical photographs was first published by Vogue magazine, which led to a long-lasting and deep connection within the fashion world.
Klein was known for his incomparably strong vision, a hunger to experiment and an uncanny knack for visual problem solving. That uncanniness was what brought him to even areas which he had absolutely zero experience of, such as fashion and filmmaking. One of the most influential film by Klein is the 1969’s Muhammad Ali, The Greatest.
Back in those days, people thought these photographs were too harsh and chaotic; now, Klein is deemed as one of the fathers of photography, who breathed new life into photography by breaking every rule and reinventing the artistic practice in its entirety.
“Memories, that’s the thing about photography. I look at the contact sheet, and it brings back everything. Whether I was tired, whether I was full of beans. A contact sheet is like (Proust’s) madeleine, brings back every single detail.”