Wpossibly the exhibition at the International Center of Photography in New York was the greatest honor that William Klein has ever received. For three and a half months, she fanned out a huge work of photographs, paintings and films from the years 1948 to 2013 under the title “William Klein: YES” until the day before yesterday – and in doing so she could not be called anything other than huge.
This was due to the amount of work, said to have been more than three hundred, sorted by stages in life, places and genres. Above all, however, it was due to the type of presentation, which could be understood as an attack on the visitor, who was literally thrown around the eyes of the pictures from all walls and all floors in sometimes huge format frame by frame without a centimeter of free space. Which must have been in the spirit of William Klein. Because his best pictures are like explosions, for which he left all conventions behind in order to whirl up everyday life in the big cities of the world.
Klein’s shots are packed with faces, signs and house facades as well as small scenes of happy moments and questionable moments that at best overlap like in a collage and yet still fit together. To this end, William Klein plunged into the flood of passers-by with his camera and wide-angle lens, pushed himself between housewives shopping in the supermarket or pushed through the rows of spectators in stadiums. Each patch of image contains different information, so much is happening simultaneously that the eye cannot stop looking at it. They are optical cacophonies. And William Klein never tired of explaining that he saw his work as an implementation of jazz and that he always worked with the beats in his ears.
But there is a second anecdote he shared, namely that early in his career he had bought one of his used Leicas from Henri Cartier-Bresson. The photographer, of all people, who in his perfect compositions of the “decisive moment” elicited moments of harmony from life and the world like no one else and thus comfortingly suggested that a greater, ordering power had a hand in the course of things. He wanted to show him, said Klein, what a different, radical way of depicting the world this tool also contained.
blurring and distortions
His images of the inscrutable vortex of a maelstrom rarely offer consolation. At the time of the Cold War and the political tactics with the atomic bomb, he showed a world out of control – and found an optical equivalent in blurring and distortions, in hard contrasts and sloping horizon lines for the complaints of the Beat poets. The pictures sometimes burst with vitality. “Life is Good & Good for you in New York – Trance Witness Revels” was the name of the book that made him famous right away in 1956. The witness who had walked through the city as if in a trance and enjoyed it to the fullest was of course himself.