PRINT May 1981

William Klein and the Radioactive Fifties

THE PHOTOGRAPHER WILLIAM KLEIN had initially been a painter embroiled in experimental Parisian abstraction of the ’50s. Later, in the ’60s, among his many careers, he became known as one of the most successful photographers of international high fashion. At the peripheries, then, of the work for which he’s justly famous—gutsy reports of the megapolis 25 years ago—there are analogies to the efforts of two other Kleins, Yves and Calvin.

This displaced New Yorker, whose enunciation is disconcertingly suave and whose face recalls that of Antonin Artaud, was enchanted with sleaziness. Until Klein came along it was not widely imagined that that which was contemptibly low, mean and tacky in our urban environment could be enjoyed for its own sake. I get my definition of sleaziness from the dictionary, which doesn’t take one very far. In Klein’s photos the condition is much more vividly described

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