The Genetic Wars by Barbara Confino

The Church of the Street
William Klein
William Klein + Brooklyn
Ed Barnas
Photo by William Klein . Source: howardgreenberg.com
William Klein, "Minigang, street fair, Brooklyn" 2013

William Klein’s first book, "Life is Good and Good for You in New York: Trance Witness Revels," published in 1956, introduced readers to a style of street photography that broke the rules – angles were askew, faces out of focus, contrast high– but whose images worked visually. These photos, taken after years spent in Paris studying painting, offer a native son’s view of New York but echo images from Robert Frank’s “The Americans,” - that outsider’s view of midcentury America published two years later - in their asymmetry and concentration on people in public spaces. Klein’s casual style and fresh approach led him to work for Vogue and bring a new look to fashion photography. But he also directed films and continued to paint (merging photography and painting with painted contact prints; e.g., “Autoportrait”).

Photo by William Klein . Source: howardgreenberg.com
William Klein, "West Indian Day Parade, Brooklyn" 2013

“William Klein + Brooklyn” documents Klein’s foray into the digital world. As part of its Global Imaging Ambassador Program, Sony approached Klein to document Brooklyn in the summer of 2013. He spent weeks traveling about the borough from Coney to DUMBO to Williamsburg and points in-between, capturing the panoply of street life (including festivals and weddings) as well as colorful studies of storefronts at night (made much easier by the variable ISO setting of modern digital gear). Some fifty images, many butting against each other, cover the walls of the gallery in a kaleidoscope of color, embodying Klein's comment that "it's not necessary to make order out of chaos. Chaos itself is interesting."

These images are large and mounted close together. Mixed in with others that are more carefully composed, almost photojournalistic (e.g., those in the police precinct and in the tattoo shop as well as several images of bridal parties), many appear chaotic, showing only parts of bodies, sometimes askew. “Taking a photograph is almost a situation where you are in love at first sight.,” Klein commented. (You can see a video interview/documentary/camera advertisement with Klein here)

And the overall impression in these images is of joy, with people dancing and laughing throughout the borough. (One has to wonder what the mood would have been if he had shot in winter.)

Photo by William Klein . Source: howardgreenberg.com
William Klein, "Dance in Brooklyn, New York" 1954

A counterpoint to all this color is provided in a side room, where a dozen gelatin silver prints from Klein’s 1961 visit to Tokyo are on display. These monochromatic images presage many of the color ones in style and reinforce the continuity of Klein’s approach (especially the images of dance in both rooms). This continuity of vision is also reflected in several of Klein’s overpainted contact images - two feature recent digital images while others are from the early 50’s/60’s.

I came away of two minds about this exhibit. On the one hand, it is a corporate advertisement, getting a photographic icon to shoot with Sony digital gear to show what great pictures can be taken with it. [And this is not the first instance, I recall Ralph Gibson being presented with a Leica Monochrome.] But on the other hand, it does provide an incentive for a master of the analog world to delve into digital space and explore how well it serves his vision.

William Klein
William Klein + Brooklyn


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Thursday, March 19 to
Saturday, May 2, 2015
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