William Klein at the FOAM museum

William Klein at the FOAM museum

A large selection of photos by William Klein, the legendary photographer, is exhibited in the FOAM museum (Amsterdam’s main modern photography museum) this month. The show is a general overview of the man’s work and documents his influence on the world of photography, not least fashion photography. 

According to the FOAM website, William Klein is still very relevant, even though his reputation already started shortly after WWII. “The exhibition pays plenty of attention to the groundbreaking work Klein made in New York in the fifties. […] The commissions for Vogue show that Klein was a tremendous innovating force in the field of fashion photography,” according to the FOAM curators. 

The show incorporates a few huge abstract experiments of those early days, as well as the painted and monumental contact prints Klein produced in recent years.  

Klein, a personal friend of  Fernand Léger, the artist, not only innovated technical photographic convention but also overthrew the way Americans viewed themselves by showing a society that was at odds with the general consensus perception. His book Life is Good & Good for You in New York – Trance Witness Revels is still seen as the bible by many in the photography profession. 

Aside from New York, Klein also worked in Rome, Moscow and Tokyo producing now famous, coarsely granulated photo’s which reflected the atmosphere and the economic downturn with razor sharp accuracy. He had been part of the US liberation forces in Europe at the end of WWII and stayed on in France, where he met Alexander Liberman, the controversial Vogue art director who invited him to start out in fashion photography. 

When he started on fashion shoots, Klein continued his own photography and frequently, the difference between the two types of photos was hard to tell. The ex-soldier simply took fashion photographs as he deemed best – thereby establishing a whole new dimension to fashion photography. Those pictures are still seen as defining the heydays of fashion photography.  

“During his long and very productive career, William Klein has always remained ‘his own man’: independent, uncompromising, elusive and off beat, but in all that exceptionally talented,” the curators believe. 
Aside from photography, Klein also tried his hand at film and the show documents this to some degree. He directed more than 250 commercials and made a few documentary movies including  Who are you, Cassius the Great and Le Couple Témoin.
This Klein show is rather unique for the Netherlands; the last time there was a Klein exhibition was in 1967 when the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam devoted attention to this photographer. 

Foam has dedicated the entire museum to William Klein for three months and the photographer himself was present during the opening last December. 

If you have missed the recent Tate Modern exhibition of Klein’s work, this will definitely make up for it. Aside from his American presence, Klein’s work is also exhibited in Italy, France, Russia, Spain and Germany. 

Foam’s Klein exhibition runs until 12 March 2014 and is open daily from 10.00 -18.00 hrs. Thursdays and Fridays the museum, which is not far off from where many of Amsterdam Apartment rentals are located, closes at 21.00 hrs. Tickets to FOAM are € 8,75 (William Klein supplement: €1,25).