William Klein: Paris + Klein

Over de expositie

Born in New York in 1928, William Klein grew up on the "Mean Streets" of Manhattan. In 1948 he came to Paris to paint, working briefly with Fernand Léger. After six years of experimenting with painting, he returned to New York and made a photographic logbook published under the title of Life is Good and Good for You in New York in 1956. This book marked the start of a period of highly unconventional creativity which, via the elaboration of a style that went against the grain of contemporary models, gradually imposed itself as an essential point of reference in the world of photography. In 1956, adopting the same formal approach, he made an album on Rome whilst working as Fellini's assistant. Other such books followed, on Moscow (1961) and Tokyo (1962). Today, William Klein is working on a commission from the MEP on the subject of Paris, mainly in colour. For more than a year he has been illustrating his personal vision of the city, a vision that is different from everything that has been published until now: a multi-ethnic Paris a far cry from romantic, misty sentimentality.

A Parisian event that will send shockwaves through the world of photography, the new William Klein exhibition on Paris is the latest masterpiece in a totally original photographic and cinematographic life's work. Klein, a New Yorker who has lived in Paris for more than forty years, has always confronted big subjects and themes, with just the necessary distance and humour to achieve a critical view of the world at large. Here he confronts Paris once more, this time giving a synthetic, overarching image of the city. He shows the countless ways in which the French capital - which has seen some of the greatest revolutions and the most radical popular demonstrations - continues to radiate as if from within, even when it appears to have withdrawn into the deepest silence.

William Klein seeks neither to illustrate nor to comment upon Paris, but to grasp it in its entirety, as if it were at once a city and an ocean. Never passing judgment, he lets us hear its voices, its cries of protest, its songs. He shows us Paris neither from above nor from beneath, but from all directions at once. His photos are not just more pictures added to the flood of photographic images, they constitute proof of his own presence, of his own solitary intervention in a community which, though it remains foreign to him, continues to offer him a form of complicity that is ultimately fraternal. The men, women and children of Paris thus become actors in a collective theatre where everything changes daily but where the pugnacity which has been the soul of the city for over two centuries is preserved. In short, age and experience have made William Klein, who remains an American despite his voluntary exile, the city's most accomplished portrayer.

His photos are those of a great painter who sees things close up and from a distance with equal pertinence. Behind the façade of the famous Parisian décor, through the vagaries of history and fashion, he discerns the continuity of a unique shared experience, where the grandiose and the lugubrious coexist, where ugliness and beauty are not incompatible, and where misery never triumphs over the luxurious or the exceptional. More akin to Victor Hugo than he himself would admit, more faithful to Rimbaud than he knows, he sees Paris as being in a constant process of repopulation, drawing from diverse and radically different sources, breaking free from the traditional limits of a national capital (and indeed of the nation itself) as if cosmopolitanism were its very lifeblood.

For Klein, recording daily life in Paris shot by shot, as if writing a diary, is like playing the part of Fabrice Del Dongo in a kind of permanent Waterloo. It is like creeping almost unseen into the heart of a battle where, ultimately, it matters little who wins or loses, for it is the clamour of the fray that interests him more than its outcome.

William Klein strives to portray a collective history in progress, to depict the perpetual movement of a unique, open and sprawling city which daily engenders a new version of its own legend.

He tells these legends without recourse to chronology or commentary. For Klein, time leaves its own record in space, and it is in space that time releases its violent energy. He himself remains a stranger in this space-time continuum : a stranger to everything, to his own country, to Paris, generously incredulous like a generous un-believer in all religions. His eye is "universal", unique and incomparable to that of other photographers precisely because it is that of a stranger. His view is never constrained, his thought never controlled from without. Wherever the collective soul of Paris manifests itself, William Klein is there, but he is a stranger to all forms of particular presence, absent from all other forms of engagement than that of his eye as it forcefully, physically engages with reality.

No prejudice of any sort influences his eye, since everything is a part of the same collective being, and because he himself is but another among others. Within this absolute otherness, he manifests and proclaims nothing but his own freedom.

Wanneer en waar

  • Expositieperiode was t/m 1 sep 2002
Maison Européenne de la Photographie (MEP)
82 Rue François Miron / 5-7 Rue de Fourcy
F-75004 Paris

open: wo t/m zo 11.00-20.00, entree € 5,00


William Klein