Enlarging the vocabulary

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  • #8229
    Profile photo of Ian McNab
    Ian McNab
    Keymaster

    © William Klein

     

    © William Klein

     

    The above are a couple of double-page spreads from William Klein’s “New York 1954-55”. (The original pages are about 13.5″ high and 9.5″ wide, so the double-page spread is 19″ across – very dramatic!)

    In his notes on the pictures, Klein says,

    “John Szarkowski called photographs like these ‘scrofulous’ – meaning no harm, I suppose. He went on to say they were the boldest and most distanced from the acceptable standards of formal quality. They were not so easy to like when they were new. I’m not sure they’re easy to like now. They’re still bursting with their own kind of graphic muscle – they enlarge the vocabulary… Not knowing the rules (i.e. of photography), I made up non-rules as I went along. My object was to get something on film and see how to deal with it in the darkroom. Zooming the focus [of the enlarger], reframing, blowing up tiny details, eliminating mid tones, using the highest contrast paper possible, etc., etc.” (William Klein (1995) “New York 1954-55”. England: Dewi Lewis Publishing. Page 12)

    The key point here is “They’re still bursting with their own kind of graphic muscle – they enlarge the vocabulary.” This could also be said of the work of Daido Moriyama (and interestingly the Tate Modern had a joint exhibition of work by Klein and Moriyama from Oct 2012 to Jan 2013).

    Neither Klein nor Moriyama use conventional approaches to composition. This was not for want of knowledge of them: Moriyama trained as a photographer, and Klein is painter who had studied in Paris, with, among others, the cubist painter Fernand Léger, and had had successful solo exhibitions in Milan. His decision to eschew formal composition in his New York photographs was conscious and intentional. Klein writes, in another of the notes:

    “…I liked what the one-eyed camera could do almost on its own, oblivious of Beaux-Arts composition, tired laws of perspective, The Golden Mean, and all that.” (ibid. p7)

    #8546
    Profile photo of John Royle
    ajroyle
    Keymaster

    I missed this post!

    I don’t think he is being quite as random as he is intending. There are elements we quickly latch on to and the feeling of movement is captured. This is why they still say something and, since they are not your usual stuff, they might be said to “enlarge the vocabulary”.

    Artists are always exploring.

    #8549
    Profile photo of Ian McNab
    Ian McNab
    Keymaster

    I think you’re right, John. And he was especially interested in the ‘graphic design’ of the book as a whole, to which the individual pictures and their sequencing primarily had to contribute. (Winogrand wasn’t much interested in Klein, owing to Klein’s essentially graphic (rather than photographic) preoccupations.)

     

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