World Photo London, Day 2: In the Photographers Studio with William Klein
- By Erin @ WPO
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We were honoured to have William Klein in conversation with Simon Baker, curator of photography and international art, Tate for a session of In the Photographers Studio.
During the 2012 Sony World Photography Awards Ceremony Gala Klein was awarded with the Outstanding Contribution to Photography Award, for his incredible life's work as a photographer and filmmaker.
Left Image Credit: © Honeybunn Photography
Baker began by asking Klein about his beginnings in painting.
After serving in the US Army in Germany and France he received an ex-serviceman's grant to study art at the Sorbonne; a place he dreamt of studying photography as a boy. When riding around Paris on a bike, trying to find the places he had read about as a boy, he saw “the most beautiful girl I ever saw” and had to approach her. They were then together for the next 50 years as husband and wife. In Paris he trained under Fernand Léger and looked up to him like an uncle or a father.
Klein had nothing to do with photography, Léger’s mantra was work with architects. He encouraged them to focus on the essential work of Italian painters in the 15th century who worked with architects.
Baker: lets talk about your experiments in the dark room.
He was commission to create large murals at 23; these murals could be moved and repositioned giving them almost 4000 different combinations. When
shooting a long exposure of them he discovered through their movement, blur in photography; “my god blur is something that happens with photography, what’s special about photography, its about painting, its about craftsmanship, you can do something with photography you can’t do with anything else.”
“I wasn't in a photographic school where a professor said I should do this do that. I had been working with charcoal and lithography and I thought the images I did they weren't so bad.”
Image Credits: Right, William Klein Barbershop, New York 1961 (Vogue), Left Wiliam Klein, Black Vittelonis, Harlem, NY 1955.
Klein on Vogue & NY:
Klein received his big break by having luck of meeting Alexander Liberman who produced Vogue, he had seen one of Klein’s exhibitions and called him up and asked him to come see him to ask him to work for Vogue. He gave him a contract with Vogue, which was unheard of, someone with no experience working for the most sophisticated magazine in the world.
Being back in NY to work for Vogue, he decided to do a photographic diary, as he had been living in Paris long enough that he could compare lifestyles. He felt it was a tough life for people living there and he felt uncomfortable there. “I saw things in the viewfinder of the camera that blew my mind, made me think of the stuff I learnt with Léger and what he was saying.”
Klein didn't know other photographers and didn't know what was being done in photography, so just did his own thing.
“I wasn’t afraid of getting up close to people and asking them to not move, wasn't afraid to take photos the way he wanted to.”
In NY people were surprised to see him photographing them, so he used to pretend it was for the daily news, that he was the enquiring photographer and their photograph would be in the paper the next day!
Klein on his 1st book:
His first book that came about from these images, Life Is Good & Good For You in New York (1956). Chris marker was his first publisher, he realised people wouldn't think this book was worth publishing so he threatened to leave the publishing house unless his team agreed to publish it.
Image Credit: William Klein, book cover, 1956
Baker: The way the book is laid out is very dynamic can you tell us about that.
Klein’s first NY book was less about photography and more about design and layout. It wasn't the style of photographic books at that time; there was a set format that he went against. He tried to cram as much as possible into a double page, he didn’t continue much in that direction afterwards.
Klein on film making:
His NY book is grungy, dark, black and white work. People would say he hates NY, but he didn't, so he said he would do something different; a film with the electric lights in time square and make something beautiful.
He wanted to meet Federico Fellini and find out more about Italian movies and production as they were the first films he would see as a boy. Klein became an assistant to Fellini in Rome and moved there with his wife. “Rome was like going to another planet.”
Klein on Tokyo:
He was asked if he would like to do a book on Tokyo, said yes straight away. He was curious about Japanese photographers, he was doing these brutal black & white photos and thought he could learn something from them. However he found the young photographers were sick of Zen photography and wanted to do more brutal work.
Questions from the Audience
What was the reason why you were determined to make films?
"I thought my books were films so the next step was to make films." So Klein eent to Fellini to make films with him and even he had problems getting funding.
Did you mix with other photographers in Paris?
Klein reflects that he was always a loner, never part of a photographic group. He was sympathetic to Magnum and once went to them with his images but nothing came of that.
How did you come about mixing painting and photography?
When I took photographs I didn't care what people said or did, I did my own thing. At one point recently, about 20 years ago photo, he was asked if he had an idea to do a series of films on photography. So he came up with an idea of having photographers talking about their work and having the strip of negative of the images, panning along that strip with the camera, discovering how photographers work.
From this film 'contacts' he noticed the red lines around the photos on negative he knew they were good photos to the photographers from these markings, which gave him the idea of doing it on a flat surface not just in film. To magnify the impact of this chosen photography by showing the unsuccessful one next to it.
He thought people hanging just black and white photographs on the wall a bit boring so thought he would juice it up a bit.
Klein’s exhibition at The Tate will open later this year in October. Details can be found here.