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William Klein pays homage to the medium of photography

William Klein – New York. Atom Bomb Sky, 1955.

William Klein – Tokyo.
Dancers interpret Genet’s Notre-Dame-des-Fleurs in street of small offices, 1961.

William Klein – Moscow. Bikini, Moscova river’s beach, 1959.

A William Klein photograph is immediate, visceral, and intense. It will have you rooted then falling through a rabbit hole in the space/time continuum, Sure you’ve seen these photographs before — how do they stay fresh? How has Klein mastered the form so profoundly that you can see the ripples of influence, his style so transformative and informative that it’s syntax has become common parlance?

The answer lies in Celebration (La Fabrica), his latest book. The photographer, now 91, looks back over his life’s work and selects his favorite works in homage to the medium he loves. Traversing New York, Rome, Moscow, Madrid, and Paris, Klein’s choices are a revelation of the man behind the lens, the one in search of the electric sensation of being alive and forever paying it forward.

“Here is my preface for Celebration, with photos like Proust’s Madeleine. Is that a good idea?” Klein asks, ever forthright, with the understanding that to venture backwards can offer a thousand sensations and memories, the least of all for the artist himself.

“Celebration, affirmation, discovery, confirmation, revelation. All that every time I release. And if all goes well, I celebrate millions of surprises. And why not celebrate a small miracle?” he continues. “I didn’t expect it but there it is.”

Surprise: that’s what it’s all about. That ingenious emotion that flickers with the intensity of the sun, open to all possibility because, quite frankly, who even saw it coming? It is perhaps the most immediate yet mutable of all feelings we can hold, capable of rendering us still and silent as it knocks us over the head.

Sequenced largely chronologically as Klein travels the globe, we enter into world capitals between 1955 and 1965, mostly in black and white with the occasional blast of color — a surreal panoply of glittering scenes of modern life made possible through the plasticity of photography in the hands of an artist.

Klein seamless weaves documentary and commercial work, underscoring the ubiquity of the image in our construction of life, and the way that images become memories whether we were there when they were made or not — giving us this small format volume that hits like a Muhammad Ali punch.

An ardent observer of life, Klein writes, “What I know, what I discover, what I affirm, hat I show you, what I love. It comes from nowhere, from everywhere, but it’s there and I celebrate it. That’s the photography I love.”

William Klein – New York. Wings of the Hawk, 1955.

William Klein – Fashion. Anne St. Marie + cruiser, New York, 1958 (Vogue).

William Klein – Rome. Snapshot, Lido de Ostia, 1956.

William Klein – Paris. Le Petit Magot, November 11, 1968.

William Klein – Rome. Entrance Lido de Ostia, 1956.

William Klein – Rome. Watchman, Cineccita?, 1956.

William Klein – Fashion. Dolores wants a taxi, New York, 1958 (Vogue).

All images: © William Klein, courtesy of La Fabrica

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