FASHION
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Lights, Camera, Fashion

HackelBury has managed to persuade the nonagenarian American-born French photographer to bring his unseen portfolio shot in 1962 to life for the first time. Klein’s playful studio work from the series Fashion + Light was originally created for Vogue Magazine in 1962 using his signature light abstraction techniques.

Let there be light: Klein was a photographer and filmmaker who pioneered new methods of capturing his subjects inside and outside the studio | WIILIAM KLEIN/HackelBury Fine Art

William Klein knew how to have fun with his models taking the dreariness out of striking repetitive poses. He makes Dorothy juggle imaginary balls; shoot from the hip; blow white smoke rings; put on a pretend coat; calculate imaginary sums and other role plays. He then brings it all alive in his renowned abstract style. Photography, after all is manipulating light. It was a simple, but effective way of working and resulted in stunning images that lay undiscovered for over five decades.

Restless soul: Klein soon got bored with the limitations of photography and migrated to film releasing Broadway by Light in 1958

Klein who turned 90 in April says: “First, I would shoot the model. She then held the pose and we turned off all the lights in the studio. In a second exposure, lasting a few seconds, an assistant would use a flashlight to draw shapes in the air around the model’s body. The result was terrific, I thought. It brought those early abstract experiments into my fashion work.”

He started making abstract light images from 1952 attracting the attention of Alexander Liberman who invited him to join Condé Nast in 1954. With a stable income from the publishing house he was able to embark on a personal project of street photography.

Klein is best known for his innovative techniques and pioneering approach to fashion photography and photojournalism, exemplifying beauty and the grotesque all within wide-angle and telephoto shots. He took his models out of the studio and onto the streets, his revolutionary techniques pioneered a new vision. His 1956 book, Life is Good and Good for you in New York: Trance Witness Revels is acclaimed as one of the most important photo books of all time. Capturing the rough and tumble of daily life on the mean streets of New York and harnessing the explosive energy of the city through juxtapositions and bold captions, Klein’s brutally honest images and uncompromising vision caused a major a sensation.

Klein’s discovery of photography came by chance. After initial training at the Sorbonne as part of the post-war GI Bill, he spent a brief period in the Paris studio of Fernand Léger. He exhibited figurative paintings and abstract Mural Projects together in Milan in 1952. 

He became interested in photography when documenting a series of turning panels that he was commissioned to paint by the architect Mangiarotti: captured as they were revolving, a new energy and dynamism was introduced into the geometric abstractions. The process of photography enabled an exploration of scale, form and movement that influenced his future work. These photographs, seen by Alexander Liberman from American Vogue, led to a contract to join the magazine for special projects and later for experimental fashion photos.

Klein is also an accomplished and highly respected filmmaker, beginning his foray into the moving image in 1958 with the first ‘Pop’ film Broadway by Light. Omnipresent in each of Klein’s films is the same uncompromising vision that characterises his still images.

First, I would shoot the model. She then held the pose and we turned off all the lights in the studio. In a second exposure, lasting a few seconds, an assistant would use a flashlight to draw shapes in the air around the model’s body. The result was terrific, I thought. It brought those early abstract experiments into my fashion work.WILLIAM KLEIN
 

After abandoning photography for film in the mid 1960s, Klein returned to still photography in the 1980s with his pioneering zeal. In 1963 at Photokina, Cologne, Klein was named one of the 30 most important photographers of the century. In 1989 he was made a Commander of Arts and Letters in France. He went on to win the prestigious Hasselblad Award and in 1999 was awarded the Medal of the Century by the Royal Photographic Society in London. In 2007 he received the International Center of Photography Infinity Award for Lifetime Achievement, and in April 2012, he was awarded the Outstanding Contribution to Photography Award at the Sony World Photography Awards. Klein continues to live and work in Paris, France.

  • William Klein: Fashion + Light is on from 9 March – 2 June 2018 at HackelBury, 4 Launceston Place, London W8 5RL, www.hackelbury.co.uk

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