William Klein contact sheet

William Klein contact sheet

The William Klein retrospective at Tate Modern is an overview of a prolific artist who has been creating in visual mediums since the 1950’s. Its a wonderful show.

I love the detail in Klein’s photography his frames are full of context and pinned down ephemera. Starting out as a painter when he left the Sorbonne in Paris, an accidental experiment with photogram panels drew him in to what a camera can present and reveal. Returning to New York after Paris, Klein bought a wide angle lens to cram as much as he could in to each shot. The aesthetic that he formulated served him in his street photography and his Vogue fashion work alike.

“I was out gathering evidence, I made up the rules as i went along and they suited me fine. Grain, blur, contrast, accidents, cockeyed framing, no problem.”

I could spend an afternoon regarding just one room of his work and at this show there are eight. The first delights for me were in Room 2, where some of Klein’s more familiar photos have been exquisitely blown up to cover vast lengths of the gallery wall. I took a few photos on my phone when I noticed lax gallery security, I couldn’t help it!

William Klein  fashion photography

William Klein fashion photography

This was a revelation for me, seeing it in real life for the first time I got the full effect of the mirror work and got the fun as a viewer looking in to the shot and then deeper still to penetrate beyond the lens in to the mirror, and it’s beautifully done.

With so much content there’s a lot to discover here, not least the different mediums that Klein has worked in and the changes from room to room are welcome with so much to absorb. That film in Room 1 of New York neon cut to a jazz score led made an impression on Orson Welles who called it “the first film i’ve seen in which the colour is absolutely necessary.”

That is one of Klein’s many forays in celluloid, before The Devil Wears Prada there was Who Are You Polly Magoo snippets of which screen in Room 6 and the documentaries which chronicle Muhammad Ali, Eldridge Cleaver as well as the Paris protests of 1968 probably deserve a cinema season of their own.

In Room 3, a selection of the photo sequences that form a part of Life Is Good and Good for You in New York: Trance Witness Revels showcases the city portraits that bookmark a development in photography’s technique in capturing a culture. Nestling amongst the humour of the Tokyo series, that i followed from end to start and was really none the worse for it, there’s this moonlit meditation on a New York skyline.

William Klein New York

William Klein New York

I found it the quietest photo of them all. I love it for that.

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