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Thursday, 08 January 2015


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Another wonderful article, and one that informs me of work that I wasn't directly familiar with.

Regarding, "...following his instincts as an artist rather than a trained photographer," I've often been perplexed by the common (though not universal) notion that being a photographer and being an artist should be different things. It is like writing, "...following his instincts as an artist rather than as a trained painter."

It is odd perhaps, but I have actually seen much more of Daido's and Shomei Tomatsu's work than I have of Klein's New York photos. Although Tomatsu's work doesn't seem to be as well known as Moriyama's in the US, I'd agree with "Japan photographer par excellence."

I also like some of Moriyama's latest color photography more than his recent black and white. I am sure Moriyama doing digital color has some folks chewing the bark off trees, though.

Now if only I could find a copy of Life is Good & Good for You in New York at a reasonable price.

A few years ago the BBC made this documentary about (and with) William Klein.

Interesting post. I was discussing something along this vein with an artist friend of mine. How does one explain Helmut Newton's success with Vogue for example and Klein's lack of same? (Yes, I realize they are different genre) but consider the success of Andy Warhol whose work was generated by his constant seeking of ideas from others and not his own.
We ended our conversation with the epiphany that it is largely a matter of luck and some talent. The art world is a hard nut to crack.
Thanks for a fine post.
My two pesos.

Back then (I was ~19-20), many of my photos were "meaningless blur, grain, muddy exposures, drunken horizons and general sloppiness." But sadly, it wasn't on purpose...

Excellent essay, John. Indeed, Klein was (is) a contra fellow. To a great degree his 1950's/1960's fashion photography was equally contrarian, often shooting models on the run in the streets of NY and Paris, sometimes with long lenses from great distances as if we're spying on this terrifically-attired gal.

For as random and messy as Klein's personal street photography seemed he very much had method in the madness and his framings often only seemed haphazard. Perhaps the most significant technique that he introduced, at least to me, was placing focus beyond (often FAR beyond) the closest subject. It can be a very powerful technique that manages they eye in (still) unconventional ways.

And yes, post-war Japanese photographers were powerfully influenced by Klein's work. Members of the short-lived "Provoke" group became the figureheads for that movement. It's a fascinating subject in which I've been immersed for years.

For those wanting to see a bit more of William Klein, do try to take time to catch the excellent 2012 documentary "The Many Lives of William Klein".

And perhaps the best example of how Klein influenced one of Japan's greatest photographers can be seen in the (English-subtitled) Japanese documentary "Near Equal".

@ Julian Love: I so wanted to attend that Klein/Moriyama show at Tate Modern! But other obligations prevented it from happening. Thanks for opening the still-moist scab.

Mr. Kennerdell, this is a very good piece of writing. Excellent. Well done. Thank you for the read.

That Tomatsu photo is wonderful. But what does it owe to Klein (at least as illustrated by that first photo, which is completely pointless)?

The Klein/Moriyama show at the Tate Modern was fantastic. I could have purchased a copy each of all of their books from the shop, but I would have needed a Louis Vuitton sea-bag to carry them all back home.

Frank's book, the Americans, was also first published in France. It sounds like Europe was a bit more open to new ideas.

"meaningless blur, grain, muddy exposures, drunken horizons and general sloppiness." PP seems to have said the same thing about "The Americans" a few years later. The EXACT same thing if you google it...
Still, thanks for the great article!.


Great article. Klein has always been one of my favourites.

This article really strikes home for me because I'm in a bit of an artistic rut at the moment. Reading this article was like an indirect criticism of my work by showing me the genius of other work at the other end of the spectrum (style wise).

What I need is an anti-pattern, some new think, or new vision. The upside is that I now realise that I have a style, except that I'm already bored of it.

I'm going to have a look at the work of Klein and other photographers influenced by him a little more closely. It might be just what I need to break out of this creative funk.


"[the] notion that being a photographer and being an artist should be different things ... "

Dan -- I meant just the opposite. As a friend of mine says, "I see the world not as a German but as a European." He's both, but he prefers the broader view.

Consider the arts scene circa the 1950s. Musicians had been exploring atonality for decades. Painter and sculptors had been doing the same with abstraction. Artistically it was a pretty wild time, with the notable exception of photography. That, to a remarkable extent, was still an earnest, literal, Walker Evans-ish sort of medium.

That's why I think Klein was so important. More than Robert Frank, more than anyone else, he helped drag photography, kicking and screaming, into the context of the mid-20th century arts.

An interesting opinion, John. I may agree with you if we agree on my completion of your thoughts (in bold).

"That's why I think Klein was so important to photography. More than Robert Frank, more than anyone else, he helped drag photography, kicking and screaming, into the context of the mid-20th century arts by being a leader in establishing the "anti-technician" use of a camera as a tool of expression rather than simply description."


Frank's work represents more of a series of rather cynical sociological one-liners. Klein's work represents "1001 Ways to Say 'What the F__k?' With a Camera".

Of course there were other photographers who preceded and, in some cases, exceeded Frank and Klein in their respective shticks. But, as is so common, they each made the critical connections to get their works most strongly promoted and remembered.

Well at least we now know Who we can blame for the mindless numb ¨street photography¨ of today!!
Oh, wait.... it's supposed to be art, with a capital A, or at least somehow that ever ominous phrase of the second ¨socially relevant... connected¨!!
Ha, just look at what Walker Evans spawned!
Great article especially sheds in-sight on Tomatsu and his acolytes. Plus much grist to think on.

Given the above B&W snaps of Chet Baker this might be an appropriate place to draw attention to Bruce Weber's magnificent (B&W) documentary on him, "Let's Get Lost". Last time I watched it it was available, in its entirety, in reasonably good technical quality, on YT - although you might have to dig about to negotiate the many bleeding chunks also posted there.
Whether you like Baker, Weber, B&W, Jazz, or none of the preceding, in any combination, this film is a minor masterpiece. If you don't know it and it jars initially, stick with it.

Great post! I ran with the link to the documentary which was spectacular! As a commercial photographer, one of the most difficult things for me is to let go of much of the attention that is spent on the quality of the rendering of an image - the effort spent on getting the technical aspects of the image right for a paying client.

I vividly remember studying with Antonin Kratchovil in Cuba back in 2001 and this was my greatest takeaway. At the time he was still using an old, beat up Nikon 35mm with an old, dirty, scratched 28mm or 35mm prime. He was not very concerned with absolute focus. He wasn't very concerned with nailing the exposure - he mostly guessed. All the adjectives used for Klein were words I described Antonin with - most of all "gritty." His images were rough, contrasty, grainy, risky. It's less a style than a mindset?

And for me, this is a very needed and valuable lesson to offset the creatively stifling influence that commercial work can have on my personal work. That looser style of shooting personal work then cycled back through my commercial work in a very impactful way.

Really enjoyed the resulting journey of this post. Thanks!


Since you mentioned Japanese post-war photography, it might be worth mentioning the exhibition now at the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento -- it is photography from the SFMOMA permanent collection. Really good stuff...


Can anyone recommend a good book of Klein's work?

[I would get the Rome box set from Aperture. --Mike]

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