It's easy to assume that photography (art photography) in the 1950's and early 1960's was dominated by people like Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Frank and the talented crew who routinely shot for Life Magazine and Look Magazine. Fashion photography was widely thought to be the dominion of Richard Avedon and Irving Penn. And we assume that everyone else working back then was using one or another of a small group of superstar photographers like them as role models and beacons of style; that they represented the photo-cultural avant-garde of an era.
But there is one collection of work that I keep coming back to that seems fresher and more modern than most of the famous work from that period and it was done in a short span of time by William Klein, the essential proto street photographer.
Many years ago Aperture put out the above monograph of Klein's work. It covers his street photography in New York, Paris, Rome, Tokyo and Moscow. It also looks at some of his fashion photography, exhibition design and his graphic design. At a certain point in the late 1950's Klein moved to Paris, took up filmmaking (successfully) and never really came back to the U.S.
While HCB spent most of his career making (wonderful) images that fit into the formalist constraints of his love for the 50mm lens; with an occasional nod to the 35mm or the 90mm, and while Robert Frank also shot with neutral focal lengths, Klein seemed to have always had a wide angle lens (or a very wide angle lens) bolted to the front of his camera. Where Frank and HCB seemed mostly to relish being unobserved while photographing Klein and his wide angle lens are almost always right in front of the subject and usually fully engaged with them. In their faces! As a result his photographs are much more immersive, emotional, powerful, and even confrontational. They have a power to them that seems to have grown while (perhaps because of saturation or stateliness) the images of his street shooting peers now seem more like exercises in formalism and design by comparison. Even his printing of images was a rejection of the standard of the day; rejecting a broad range of gray tones from black to white and instead relying on higher contrast printing to accentuate his approach.
When I bought this book, well over twenty years ago I leafed through it a couple of times and then it sat on a bookshelf for ten years. When I took it back off the shelf ten years ago it seemed to have aged well. Better than I expected. And when I pulled the book into my reading nook and sat down for a deeper look again last week I started to develop a stronger re-appreciation for the power Klein wielded; being able to wade into a crowd and compel a group of strangers to respond (not pose) to him and his camera. Almost like the subsequent photography of modern street photographer, Bruce Gilden but with none of the implied malice, voyeurism and affected disregard for the subjects.
I have not seen a show of Klein's original prints but I certainly want to. Learn more about him here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Klein_(photographer). Read what William Klein's work taught modern street photographer, Eric Kim, here: http://erickimphotography.com/blog/2013/03/26/10-lessons-william-klein-has-taught-me-about-street-photography/
And a quick Google search turns up a trove of his work here: william klein photography
I think everyone should take a dive into the photographs and life of William Klein. Much of what passes for art/street photography now owes a deep debt to his ferocious and energy filled plunge into the streets of the 1950's and 1960's, armed with a camera.