William Klein (1928 -) is in the pantheon of great photographers who
are always described as 'revolutionary' because of the ways in which
they changed the history of photography. Klein didn't perhaps set
out to shock, but in it's time his work was thought of as shocking.
Paris: Anouk Aimee, 1961
The Lumiere Brothers Photo Gallery is showing twenty six of
Klein's works from 1956 to 1962, the period when he was working in
Paris for American Vogue. Shock and high fashion are not
the most immediately obvious partners; but that's the point, we
don't expect a gown to outrage. That is today we don't, not after
Bruce Weber, say, or Helmut Newton. But Klein started the fashion
for taking a frock off the runway and putting it on the tarmac.
Klein was born the son of poor Jewish immigrants in New York. He
was brought up in an Irish neighbourhood, anti-semitism was on every
street corner, and he liked to take himself off to the Museum of
Modern Art. He served as a radio operator in the US Army in Germany
and France, and moved to Paris to live there in 1948. He had decided
to become a sculptor, and he studied briefly with Fernand Leger.
It was Leger who encouraged his pupils to reject the stiffness of
academicism, and Klein's sculptures took the form of moving light
panels on photosensitive glass. He took up photography to record the
movements of his sculptures, and then gradually moved on to other
Alexander Liberman, art director of American Vogue, made
Klein's career when he attended a showing of Klein's sculptures, and
soon after saw Klein's early photographs. Liberman invited Klein to
shoot fashion. It was an inspired invitation. Klein's very inexperience
gave his work its effectiveness. He didn't know how to snap in a studio
(or didn't want to learn) and so he took the models out into the street.
This exhibition shows Klein at his best, mixing the elegance of high
fashion with his irreverent takes on what was accepted as a 'good
Rome: Simone Daillencourt, NinaDevos; Capucci, 1962
All of Klein's photos here are black and white. When we talk
about a black and white fashion photo, perhaps it brings to mind an
image that is carefully staged, in the mould of Cecil Beaton, Horst
P. Horst, George Hoyningen-Huene and Richard Avedon. Klein is a part
of this tradition, and also the man who pulled it out of its
Klein was one of the first to use wide angle and telephoto
lenses, and there are many examples here of the ways in which the
resulting print simultaneously brings us closer to the subject - we
recognise the street life around the models - and makes it more
distant by not allowing us to get too close.
Nothing dates so much as fashion, however, and Klein is no
exception. He cannot make us forget that an A line dress or pancake
make-up is out of date; but his photos live beyond that season's
collection because couture is an integral part of the whole
composition - it isn't allowed to dominate.
The photographs at the Lumiere are marked 'Contemporary Print',
meaning that they are not the original prints taken when the
negatives were first produced. The gallery, however, confirmed that
Klein himself produced the prints and arranged the framing. Does
this mean that they are somehow second-best? Yes, if you value a
photograph only by the date of its original printing; no, if you
accept them as a second 'original' signed by the photographer.
What determines the price of a photograph is a combination of the
aesthetic merits of the photograph itself, and the popularity of the
photographer. The two factors are not always in synchronisation. For
example, Cecil Beaton is as good as any of the other photographers
mentioned in this article, but his work can be bought for less than
$1,000. He is seen as too 'polite,' not challenging enough in this
world which values shock more than anything else. Klein, however,
has the necessary street cred.
New York: Evelynn Tripp, Isabella Albonico, Nena
von Schlebrugge; Talmack, 1962
The Lumiere is selling the 50cm x 60cm prints for $5,800, and the
30cm x 40cm prints for $3,800. Does that make them worth buying?
Consider that at Sotheby's last year, the recently deceased Helmut
Newton's Sie Kommen, Dressed/Sie Kommen, Naked, shot in
1981 and printed in an edition of 85 in 1984, made $114,000.
Where: Lumiere Brothers Photo Gallery,
Central House of Artists, Room A51, 10 Krimskii Val, Moscow
Tel/Fax: +7 095 238 7753