Fashion + light
...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, 2017
‘At Vogue in 1956, Klein was encouraged to try his hand at fashion photography. He admired the controlled elegance and consummate technique of Irving Penn and Richard Avedon but on the whole he felt the studio was its own little bubble. So he pricked it, blowing up faces to emphasize the grain, asking models to suck on their cigarettes rather than holding them like quills.
'...Then I realised that there was something that could be done with blurriness in photography…And I thought maybe this is a way out of the rut of geometrical forms, curves, straight lines, triangle and whatever.'
In 1952, Klein’s paintings were exhibited in Milan at the Galleria del Milione - which, by chance, led to his first real experiment in photography. He was preoccupied then with changing forms, with ominous geometrical shapes that could be used as murals. The Italian architect Mangiarotti saw Klein’s work and asked him to adapt it into reversible panels that could move or divide a room, creating many chance combinations and multiple patterns.
Broadway by light
Klein's first film Broadway by Light is a dizzying and dazzling study of a night in the life of New York's Great White Way. Focusing on the play of lights and shadows, colours and forms in motion, the camera jumps between the flashing bulbs and neons of Times Square's iconic advertising and the silhouettes of men at work on theatre marquees, as they re-arrange letters on the lightboxes, poised like acrobats on their stepladders.
'While journalism was stagnating into sentimentalism and spectacle, Klein had found a new approach. Openly subjective photography combined with vivid captions of insight and thoughtful revelation, leading the reader to the deeper truths of four very different postwar societies'
© David Campany/Contrasto, from William Klein: Paintings, Etc Published September 2012.
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