Thursday, December 26, 2019


© jmse

By José Manuel Serrano Esparza

William Klein is considered one of the most influential photographers ever, whose work meant a revolution from mid fifties regarding the previous traditional schemes of photography, with a new radical approach in his way of getting pictures, introducing high doses of contrast, lack of framing, movement, apparent grain, frequently overexposed negatives, deformity, chaos and blurring in his images, oozing tremendous energy and making up the core of his four landmark city books on 

William Klein´s book " New York ". First edition published in 1956 in Paris by Aux Editions du Seuil, featuring 192 pages and a lot of black and white pictures. It has become a cult work both for collectors and enthusiasts of photography. 
© jmse

New York,

William Klein´s book " Rome ", featuring 189 pages and a comprehensive choice of black and white pictures made by him in the Italian capital. First edition from 1959. Published by Viking Press, New York. 
© jmse 

William Klein´s book " Tokyo ". First edition published in 1964 by Delpire Éditeur, featuring 184 pages and a lot of black and white photographs printed by Zokeisha Publications. The text is in French with some Japanese characters. 
© jmse 

William Klein´s book " Moscow " . First edition published in 1964 by Crown Publishers Inc., New York, with 125 black and white pictures. © jmse 

and Moscow.

© jmse
He changed from scratch the aesthetics criteria of photography which had been commonplace until then, with a unique style going far beyond the photojournalism that had reigned supreme during second half of twenties, thirties and forties (based on being very near the subjects and striving after going unnoticed), becoming one of the pioneers of street photography

Close-up + spectators. St. Patrick´s Day. Fifth Avenue. New York. 1955. 
© William Klein

and developing a full-fledged immersion with the people he photographed, often interacting with them, getting pictures almost at point-blank range) as well as steadily adding irony and humor to spare.

Klein´s style means a total departure from the search for objectivity, elegance, and discretion of Henri Cartier-Bresson classic school with 50 mm standard lenses as mainstay.

Kid aiming a gun at the camera. Upper Broadway, New York. 1954. The photographer interacted with both boys before getting this iconic picture in which the main character´s face appears erupting with rage and trying to mimick the gesture of gangsters in movies of the time. 
© William Klein  

And to utterly give rein to his own photographic way, with immediate, visceral and intense images, he chose mainly the following cameras:

- A Leica IIIf ( lent by him by Henri Cartier-Bresson, and with which he made his pictures of New York during 1954 and 1955).

- A Leica M3 between sixties and early eighties.

- A Leica M6 from mid eighties to late nineties.

- A Leica R6 and R6.2 with Elmarit-R 28 mm f/2.8, Elmarit-R 19 mm f/2.8 and

Vario-Elmar-R 21-35 mm f/3.5-4 ASPH from 2003, the latter having been a very useful zoom for William Klein, thanks to its compact dimensions (66.3 mm length x 75 mm largest diameter) and a relatively low weight of 500 g, with the added benefit of a stellar performance at the focal lengths most used by him : 100 lines/mm at f/5.6 in the center at 28 mm and 82 lines/mm at /5.6 at 21 mm, clearly beating vast majority of the cream of the crop 21 mm and 28 mm primes manufactured by any brand in image quality, with exceptional sharpness, contrast, lack of distortion, control of vignetting, colour precision and absence of flare, thanks to a superb design with incredibly only 9 elements in 8 groups and an amazing accuracy in the centering of each optical element.

- Two Nikon F cameras coupled to Non-Ai Nikkor H-Auto 28 mm f/3.5 and Non-Ai Nikkor - NC Auto 24 mm f/2.8 lenses during seventies and eighties.

Most times with very wide lenses (particularly the 28 mm — the one he used most frequently — and 21 mm), broadening the image scene and multiplying the relationships among things and human beings appearing in his pictures,

Kiev railway station in Moscow. 1959. 
© William Klein

to such an extent that everything is included and coexists within the frame : persons, objects, both natural and artificial light, individual and collective dramas, architecture, movement, advertisements, traffic lights,

Liberty and Selwyn cinemas in 42nd Street. New York. 1954. 
© William Klein.

night neon illumination, unpredictability, images taken by chance and so forth.

Needless to say that the great coverage and depth of field boasted by Leica very wide angle lenses between 21 mm and 28 mm

5 elements in 3 groups Hektor 28 mm f/6.3 in LTM39 mount, manufactured between 1935 and 1955. Used with adapter to Leica M bayonet.
6 elements in 4 groups Summaron-M 28 mm f/5.6. Made between 1955 and 1963.

9 elements in 4 groups Super Angulon-M 21 mm f/4. Made by Schneider under Leica specifications between 1958 and 1963.

9 elements in 6 groups Elmarit-M 28 mm f/2.8 first version. A complex symmetrical design with very short back focus and delivering an image quality similar to the Summaron-M 28 mm f/5.6, but much more luminous. Manufactured between 1965 and 1972.

enabled him to utterly dive into action and simultaneously to fit as many things as possible inside the frame, rejecting any hierarchy and individually highlighting the significance of each subject.

It´s no wonder that his milestone photographic book " New York " became a kind of earthquake in 1956, presenting an unknown visual translation of its true essence,

Christmas shopping at Macy´s. New York. 1954. 
© William Klein

with images focused on its streets, 

Commercial advertisement near the docks area. New York. 1955. 
© William Klein


Luxurious Cadillac shop. New York. 1955. 
© William Klein

power of the dollar, 

Street with posh shops. New York. 1955. 
© William Klein

Little boy making faces in a poor neighborhood of New York. 1955. 
© William Klein

huge differences in standard of living among people dwelling at few hundred meters from one another, etc, gauging the vital pulse of the city,

Four Heads. Thanksgiving Day. New York. 1955. A very famous and iconic picture in which the photographer had the insight of perceiving the presence of a policeman from Italian origin, another man from Latin American background, an Afro- American woman and a Yiddishe mamma, creating a vertical composition with the heads of all of them inside the frame, as a visual evidence of his concept of New York as a great megalopolis stemming from a number of  different multicultural and racial diasporas. It is a compelling image, enhanced by the very powerful diagonal lines made up by the policeman and the Jewish woman looking in opposite directions, in the same way as the Afro-American woman and the man from Latin American descent. 
© William Klein

brought about by human beings from various origins and making up a remarkable melting pot.

Western Union. New York. 1954. 
© William Klein

Klein proved to be a master jostling with people and creating exceedingly powerful images faithfully depicting the real New York of fifties,

A man under the aerial subway in Third Avenue, New York. 1955. 
© William Klein

often being crude, raw, gritty,

Theater ticket area in Broadway, New York. 1955. 
© William Klein  

full of rough-and-tumble streets, etc.

It all with a graphic grasp of photography merging satire, social criticism,

Dwarf. Little Italy. New York. 1955. 
© William Klein

black humor, visual poetry and sometimes violence.

Big Face + Procession. Tokyo, 1961. 
© William Klein

And the use of very wide angle lenses results in multiple subjects and points of interest, along with frequent distortions, particularly in faces, adding impact to his images.

Anyway, there´s a further key factor. Klein shoots with unswerving intensity, passion and verve, because it conveys a lot of emotions and feelings to him and he loves it, including the roughest areas of the cities,

Black Vitteloni + Pepsi. Harlem, New York. 1955. An image epitomizing the masterful use of slow shutters speeds of this photographer, whose pictures made during fifties meant a pivotal moment in the history of photography along with the book " The Americans " by Robert Frank, published in 1958. 
© William Klein

with whose inhabitants he always created an outstanding rapport.

It is a highly subjective and instinctive kind of photography, mostly getting pictures in the way he feels and not being interested in technicalities at all, but in the capture of

Kendo School. Tokyo. 1961. The photographer´s remarkable prowess choosing very slow shutter speeds to convey motion feeling in his images has resulted in a picture oozing impact and symbology, clearly depicting the coexistence between the ancient Japan embodied by the Kendo fighters with bamboo swords and the modern one epitomized by the raft of advertisements in the background, utterly discernible along with the clock hands and numbers, thanks to the use of a Leica M2 rangefinder camera coupled to a 6 elements in 4 groups Summaron-M 28 mm f/5.6 lens stopped down to probably f/11, getting very extensive depth of field, on selecting an exceedingly slow shutter speed around 1/8 sec to shoot handheld, which has rendered the men in the middle of the frame blurred, in contrast to the two fighters in the foreground, whose swords appear much sharper, though their bodies are slightly out of focus. In addition, the great sharpness area attained enables to glimpse some Kendo pupils on the left of the image waiting for their turn to combat. The outstanding compactness and low weight of the 24 x 36 mm format Leica M2 rangefinder camera lacking a swivelling mirror together with the whispering noise delivered by its first-class horizontally travelling focal plane shutter featuring cloth curtains and enhancing discretion during the photographic act, has been instrumental to be able to get the picture shooting hand and wrist at such pretty slow speed, something that would have been virtually impossible with a reflex camera. 
© William Klein

very special atmospheres,

Simone + Roman hyperdecoration. Rome. 1962. William Klein has also been a great photographer of fashion, getting a lot of likewise iconic pictures in this scope, particularly with Simone d´Aillencourt and Vogue favorite model Dorothy McGowan. In this image, the use of a very wideangle lens from a near distance and getting great depth of field from foreground to background, has enhanced the impact of the picture, along with the slow shutter speed used that has rendered the waiter´s face walking on the left slightly blurred. Klein was a great innovator in the field of fashion photography, a realm in which he also used long tele lenses.
© William Klein.

uncommon instants,

The Italian cinema director Federico Fellini having coffee. Rome. 1956. 
© William Klein.

truly interesting people,

Japanese passers-by in a Tokyo street. 1961. 
© William Klein.

the bustle of the streets,

Tokyo inhabitants going to work by underground. 1961. 
© William Klein.

the frenzy of rush hours,

Atom Bomb Sky. New York. 1955. 
© William Klein

the ordinary daily things and landscapes turned into extraordinary,

Somersault. New York. 2001. 
© William Klein

the spontaneity of children playing, etc.

And to foster both the life explosion and manifold moods usually visible in his pictures, along with the movement, he wisely leverages his skill on shooting with deliberately chosen slow exposures and special touches during printing, bringing about compelling and convincing images brimming with vitality and his personal interpretation of what is happening during the photographic act, fully aware that each human being is unique and exceptional.

© jmse  
The upshot of it is that throughout a career of sixty-five years as a photographer, Klein has always excelled at creating

Three black kids in Harlem, New York. 1955. 
© William Klein

a remarkable complicity and chemistry with very different human beings, irrespective of their origin, profession, standard of living or race, with an unwavering social compromise and a pervading sense of humor.

© William Klein

In addition, he is a photographer featuring a great sensorial and visual memory, so when beholding his contacts, he is able to remember smells, lights, ambiances, temperatures, etc, many years after the specific instants in which he got the pictures, as well as discovering new things he hadn´t seen or perceived, because those tiny 24 x 36 mm copies on paper hold everything and embody his concept of photography as a kind of visual diary.

Furthermore, William Klein is very perfectionist as to the quality of reproduction of his pictures for exhibitions, made on top-notch baryta paper, since he wishes them accurately evoking the special and fleeting moments captured with his camera, and in this regard, the help of Klein´s experienced assistant and top-notch printer Pierre-Louis Denis has been instrumental inside the photographer´s atelier in Paris, organizing his study, contact sheets and negatives, as well as spending countless hours in the darkroom, making the enlargements and painted contacts displayed in king size for his photographic exhibitions, with all prints being made under Klein´s very high standards of quality on Ilford baryta photographic paper, according to his haptic notion of photography.

The La La Human Steps Ballet inside a Paris underground wagon. 1991. A picture clearly depicting the kind of swirling and abrupt images made using low shutter speeds in a high percentage of Klein´s photographs which greatly meant a turning point in the history of the medium, showing things and people in a way never seen before. 
© William Klein     
And of course, his knack for photographing odd moments and disparate realities has always been another of his fortes, together with his unique and radical visual language exuding randomness and sense of composition at the same time, along with a permanent feeling that people have margin for laughter and humor even when they face hardships.

He doesn´t look for any objectivity, trying to show things in the way he sees them.

                                                                      © jmse

In addition, Klein has always expressed his conviction that however much a photographer wants to be objective, that objectivity can´t exist, because prior to getting the picture, he/she has chosen what to photograph or not, use black and white or color, a wideangle, standard or telephoto lens, factors bringing about subjective views of reality different to the binocular nature of human vision.

Huge mural with movie posters, books covers, porfolios of illustrated magazines and contact sheets of William Klein´s work between 1952 and 2005, installed at the entrance of Brotfabrik Wien during the Vienna Photobook 2015. 
© jmse

On the other hand, William Klein has been a seminal figure in the evolution of photobooks, and apart from the aforementioned " New York ", " Rome ", " Moscow " and " Tokyo ", with which he gained celebrity during second half of fifties and sixties, he has been through decades often revisiting his images and making further photobooks, like his acclaimed

© jmse

© jmse

 " William Klein Retrospective " illustrated book containing the pictures displayed in the legendary exhibition held at the Centre National D´Art et de Culture George Pompidou in Paris between December 7, 2005 and February 20, 2006 (dedicated to the memory of his beloved wife Jeanne, who died on October 12, 2005), which were made with Leica M and R cameras and lenses.

This is a masterpiece photobook in which as usual, Klein painstakingly devised the layout, cover design and texts, in addition to presenting each picture as a gorgeous 34 x 48.9 cm double spread, with impressive image quality thanks to the work of Dupon Laboratory Paris and Musumeci Valle d´Aosta doing the digitization of the original 24 x 36 mm format black and white Kodak Tri-X 400 with professional drum scanners handled by Gonzague Perney, Gérard Binisti and Mammad Gohari, resulting in superb reproductions of the images, showing the Leica look and above all a praiseworthy precision in the contrasts, textures and grain of each image, in addition to getting advantage of the excellent acutance of Tri-X film, to such an extent that every photograph is a riveting sight:

Traffic Light in Red, Flaminia Square, Rome. 1956. A highly symbolic image depicting the Italian daily life, still suffering the economic aftermath of the Second World War, with most of its inhabitants travelling on charming Lambretta and Vespa motorcycles. Once more, the great depth of field obtained on using a very wideangle lens (probably a 28 mm one) allows to see different parallel actions with full detail : the man and woman shaking hands on the left of the image, the passer-by crossing the road, the people on the two bikes waiting to resume their march, the man holding a newspaper between his hands, the man with his back to the camera buying something at the newsstand, the man looking at the persons inside the car, and so forth.

Bikini, Moskva River beach . 1959. William Klein focuses his very wideangle lens on the smiling girl on the left, who thinks she is the only subject of the picture and strives upon appearing as attractive as possible, even holding her stomach, while the photographer has really made a family portrait image, capturing three generations : the young girl filling the left half of the frame, her grandfather with beret resting on a metallic chair and her mother putting her shoes on far right of the image and whose contours are discernible thanks to the superb visual perception of sharpness of Kodak Tri-X 400 b & w film and the extensive depth of field rendered by the 28 mm lens used. 

KGB men in the parade of May 1, 1961 in Moscow.

Concert at Gorki Park, Moscow.1959

Inner area of the Goum Department Stores beside the access stairways. Moscow. 1959. The very low shutter speed chosen by the photographer has been instrumental in delivering a vivid feeling of motion, enhanced by the slightly out of focus faces of the two women (specially the one whose left arm and hand appear blurred) and the man nearest to the 24 x 36 mm format Leica M rangefinder camera used by Klein.

Opening of a Pachinko palace. Tokyo. 1961. Here the photographer conveys a coexistence between the ancient Japan (embodied in the image by the man nearest to the Leica M camera, wearing a classical attire and some katanas, and the drummer on far left of the picture, also clad in classic apparel) and the modern one depicted by the " westernized " doorman of the Pachinko room (a gambling mechanical game filling a niche comparable to that of the slot machine in Western countries), dressed in white shirt and black trousers and tie, the woman on the left wearing Western white dress and shoes along with a fashionable handbag, and the scooter and bike in the lower area of the frame. When William Klein made his reportage on Tokyo, Japan was beginning to turn into an international technological power, specially in the car, motorcycle, radio and photography industry.

In addition, this image chimes with Fernand Léger (a great French painter, sculptor, film maker and forerunner of pop art, who had a significant influence on William Klein) and his artistic philosophy of related vertical and horizontal lines, reflections and glows.

Soap bubbles ceremony. Tokyo. 1961

Doorman of a pachinko palace. Tokyo. 1961. Another image bearing William Klein´s hallmark, shooting at very few centimeters from the doorman face, who fills the right area of the frame and is rendered out of focus, while a second man appears behind him and more of them can be glimpsed in far left background. This was a very fast shot, made at an exceedingly low speed, shooting handheld with a Leica M camera and a 28 mm lens, and the feeling of motion attained is truly admirable.

Stock Exchange of Tokyo. 1961. Here, William Klein masterfully captures the hectic activity of the Tokyo Stock Exchange and the stress pervading all the people working inside it. In a context like this, everything is done at full throttle, something that the photographer boosts using a wisely chosen slow speed that captures many of these men as blurring bodies, so the feeling of movement is highly apparent in the image.

Delirium in Kinshasa (Zaire) on October 30, 1974. Muhammad Ali has just become Heavyweight Champion of the World after defeating George Foreman.

In addition to being a groundbreaking street and fashion photographer, William Klein was a world-class film maker, creator of some landmark movies like " Broadway by Light " (1958, the first pop film, a shot in color with an Arriflex camera and Kodachrome 16 mm film and in which he shot the illuminated advertising of Times Square in New York, with high contrast cinematography highlighting the dance of blinking electric lights),

" Muhammad Ali, The Greatest " (where Klein documents a number of the key moments in the great boxer´s career between 1964 and 1974, his halcyon days in which he became an sporting icon, featuring a very strong sense of independence and an incredible speed of movements on the ring, much more typical of a middleweight champion, according to his famous adage " float like a butterfly, sting like a bee " ) and

" The French " (1981, by far the best documentary film on a tennis tournament ever made, covering the Roland Garros of that year, shot by William Klein, Nurith Aviv and Yann Lemasson with a 35 mm movie camera in such a way that thirty-eight years later, any viewer feels immersed in it and never gets tired of watching it).

William Klein (visible on the left of the image) shooting John McEnroe with a 35 mm movie camera for his film " The French " during the quarter final game Ivan Lendl - John McEnroe of the Roland Garros tennis tournament on June 5, 1981, which was won 6-4, 6-4, 7-5 by the Czech player.                                                   

Women walking in 34th Street. New York. 1955. A picture oozing impact, arising from the very low shooting angle, the converging vertical lines of the building in the background, the accurate timing on pressing the shutter release button of the LTM39 Leica IIIf camera coupled to a 28 mm lens, with the three women looking at different directions and the slow shutter speed used which has rendered the front top areas of their coats out of focus, in the same way as the constructions behind them. 

Club Allegro Fortissimo. Paris. 1990

If we add to it his unflinching sense of independence and his trajectory as one of the most rebellious street photographers ever, we can better understand the true gist of his ouvre and personality, always shaped up by the fundamental keynote that there aren´t rules in creativity.

And amazingly, after a career of 65 years as a photographer and film maker, William Klein, one of the living Leica legendary photographers in modern times, keeps on relishing photography as in 1954 when Alexander Liberman (Editorial Director of Vogue) offered him to join Richard Avedon and Henry Clarke as a staff photographer for the American magazine Vogue

Boy playing stickball at West 108th Street. New York. 1954. 
© William Klein

and began getting pictures in New York streets, turning the bathroom in the hotel he was living into a darkroom and washing the prints in the bathtub.

William Klein signing a copy of his book " New York ". 
© jmse

© jmse

In addition, though he is now 91 years old, he goes on making worldwide exhibitions, getting pictures with unutterable passion and signing books with great enthusiasm.





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