Backstage Alaïa blonde + hood, Paris
William Klein worked in fashion photography from 1957 until 1966, when he left fashion to concentrate on filmmaking. Twenty years later, Klein returned to the fashion world to film ‘Mode in France’, made in collaboration with the designers Jean-Paul Gaultier and Azzedine Alaïa. While filming backstage, Klein also took a series of penetrating photographs, such as ‘Backstage Alaïa blonde + hood’, which push to extremes the anti-chic irony of the groundbreaking fashion work he did in the 1960s.
Born in New York, Klein studied with the artist Fernand Léger in Paris in 1948. Of Léger, Klein has said: ‘[he] blew my little bourgeois mind … he wanted us to get out of the studios into the streets.’1 Klein exhibited kinetic artworks and light panels and these caught the attention of Alexander Liberman, ‘Vogue’s’ art director, who offered Klein a position in New York in 1954. There, Klein photographed a series of city street scenes which were considered too confronting to be printed in ‘Vogue’. However, Liberman recognised that Klein would bring ‘the grit of life’ to ‘Vogue’s’ pages and rival the excitement that Richard Avedon was bringing to ‘Harper’s Bazaar’. He became one of ‘Vogue’s’ star photographers in 1958, covering the Paris collections with ‘an insolence that was new and disconcerting’.2 Klein claimed to be completely disinterested in fashion, using the clothes and models as props for his own photographic ideas. In these he introduced many technical innovations such as wide-angle lenses, multiple exposures, open-flash and swirling auras of light. This signature style remains in his images from the 1980s, in which the fashions backstage are reduced to a blur of movement and light.
1. Harrison M 1991, ‘Appearances: fashion photography since 1945’, Rizzoli, New York p 122
2. Roux C editor of French ‘Vogue’, in Klein W 1994, ‘In and out of fashion’, Jonathan Cape, London p 250
© Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007