WILLIAM KLEIN (1928-2022)
Gun I, New York, 1955
gelatin silver print, printed later
signed, titled and dated in pencil (verso)
image: 17 1/2 x 12 1/2 in. (44.4 x 31.7 cm.)
sheet: 20 x 16 in. (50.8 x 40.6 cm.)
Fahey/Klein Gallery, Los Angeles;
acquired from the above by the present owner.
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Lot Essay

"It's not necessary to make order out of chaos. Chaos itself is interesting."- William Klein

William Klein, photographer, filmmaker, abstract painter, activist and polymath, took photography out of the studio and into the streets. Stylistically, one could say the style of his earlier work lies somewhere between Richard Avedon and Garry Winogrand, a mix of fashion and street photography where he experimented with models and backdrops, while taking risks along the way. A self-taught photographer, yet having studied painting briefly at the Sorbonne with Ferdinand Leger, who encouraged him to take his works to the street. In the early 1950’s, he was discovered by Vogue art director, Alexander Liberman. Liberman said about his photographs, “In the fashion pictures of the Fifties, nothing like Klein had happened before. He went to extremes, which took a combination of great ego and courage. He pioneered the telephoto and wide-angle lenses, giving us a new perspective. He took fashion out of the studio into the streets, trying anything, stopping traffic, photographing models in waxworks, repainting shop fronts, hiring actors and dwarfs. He functioned like a Fellini, sensing the glamorous and the grotesque. ... He was the first to bring into photography what [Fernand] Léger achieved in art - the glorification of the life and rhythms of the street.”

Hat and Three Roses, 1956 (lot 64) and Smoke + Veil Paris, 1958 (lot 63), are prime examples of Klein’s classic fashion photographs of the 1950’s commissioned for French Vogue. Influenced by the films of Federico Fellini and the high fashion of Dior’s New Look, with percher hats, smoky veils , cat-eye make-up and half smoked cigarettes, Klein continues to capture the zeitgeist of his time.

Gun 1, New York, 1955 (lot 65), is another one of Klein’s most iconic photographs. Recounting the moment the photograph was taken he says,“…It’s fake violence, a parody. I asked the boy to point the gun at me and then look tough. He did, and then we both laughed. [I see it] as a double self-portrait. I was both the street kid trying to look tough, and the timid good little boy on the right.” Klein’s work explores the element of duality in his life and work, outspoken on social justice and critical current events of the time. In the late 1960’s, he made documentaries about important activists such as Eldridge Cleaver, Black Panther, 1967, Muhammed Ali, the Greatest 1969 and Far From Vietnam, 1967 with Jean Luc Goddard, Alain Renais and others, protesting the U.S’s involvement in the war, to name a few.

William Klein walked the tightrope between convention and truth, reality and fantasy and forged his own path through his successful career. A unique visionary of our time, his presence will continue to reverberate through the medium of photography and influence future photographers of generations to come.

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