William Klein was an American born French photographer, noted to being, along with Robert Frank as the father of street photography. Born in New York to a poor Jewish family in 1928 William was a notably bright child enrolling in college at the age of 14 to study sociology. Although from the age of 12 he was already a big fan of the Museum of Modern Art, spending a lot of his time there. Before he could finish his course at the age of 18 he joined the US Army and was stationed in Germany and France for two years until he left and finished his studying.
He would soon return to France to study at the ‘sorbonne’ in Paris, this is where he met with Fernand Leger who would encourage his students to reject conformity and work on the streets of the city as painters, it wasn’t until after 1952 and his time in Milan did Klein move onto photography. His attempt to redefine photography often meant his use of motion blur, strong contrast, and high grain film bought him the connotations of an anti-photographers photographer. He was inspired by the works of Lazlò Moholy-Nagy and began to look at abstract and juxtaposition in his paintings and photography. It was then that during a show of his he met Alexander Liberman, director of ‘Vogue’ America who would invite him to New York to discuss a job.
He returned to New York, with ‘Vogue’ financing his work to photograph New York in a new light, looking at it from the eyes of an American who had been living in Paris for 8 years. He would explore the city looking for that ‘rawest shot’. The book he produced, New York (life is good and good for you in New York) was considered a scandal with ‘Vogue’ shocked with what he had produced noting it was crude, aggressive, and vulgar they refused to publish it, as everyone else in America. Although he did manage to find a small publisher in France to produce it, and also in Italy it was considered within elements of the photography community to be ‘incompetent work’. William Klein would later go onto produce three other photo books, looking at Rome, Moscow, and Tokyo, all of which were consistent with his style of wide angled images in high contrast with strong elements of motion blur.
While under contract with ‘Vogue’ Klein would use this time working within fashion photography to look at the picture making process. While using new techniques within fashion photography like wide angle, long focus exposure and multiple flashes and exposures. He would do this out on the street or on location as was his preference.
From 1965 William Klein moved in the film working on a number of feature films, documentary and over 200 television commercials and it wasn’t until the 1980’s that he became interested in photography again due to a renewed interest in his work. He continues this to this day, still working and living in Paris.
This alarming candid street portrait showing two children, one brandishing a gun at the lens. William Klein’s photographic characteristics are on show in this image, apart from the high contrast. The wide angle view that is up close and personal really adds to the drama of the image while the heavy grain on the image, especially on the face of the gunman adds to an already fantastic facial expression of pure anger and tension. This fantastic image is as brilliant as it is alarming with only the smaller of the boys facial expression looking up at the other boy in a calm way leaves the viewer questioning what could be happening. I love the decisive moment caught on this image, it really grabs the attention and is supported beautifully with the calm gentle eyes of the smaller boy.