Copyright William Klein/Courtesy HackelBury Fine Art, London
At almost 86, the pioneering photographer, artist and filmmaker William Klein, continues to draw a crowd. On February 23, Klein was at Jewish Book Week in London discussing his life and work with Alan Yentob, creative director of the BBC and editor and presenter of the television arts series, “Imagine.” The event was a sell-out — a testament to Klein’s extraordinary contribution, influence and sheer range of work.
Klein may have appeared physically frail, but his humor and renowned feisty nature were evident throughout. Yentob described Klein as “a pioneer of the photobook,” a person who refused to be pigeonholed. People are willing accomplices in his pictures, he said, they are participating with him. Klein’s early, raw, energetic and at times, angry 1950-‘60s images of the street are illustrated in his series of books about cities — firstly New York, then Rome, Moscow and Tokyo. These were a dramatic contrast to the classical composition epitomised by the work of Henri Cartier-Bresson. While Bresson kept his distance from his subjects, Klein came after people with his camera, a master of the close-up.
Klein’s work as a filmmaker included the first ever documentary about the fighter Muhammad Ali (1969) as well as a controversial political satire about the fashion industry, “Who Are You, Polly Maggoo?” (1966), which starred his favorite model, Dorothy McGowan. There were “no rules as far as he was concerned,” she has said of Klein’s work.