Hamburger 40 cents, William Klein, 1955.
William Klein is an American photographer born in New York in 1928. His work is both subversive and subjective, as he tends to represents how he sees the world through his photography.
The Paris Photo exhibition was the first time I could see, or the first time I could really look at Hamburger 40 cents from William Klein (New York, 1955). It is an amazing picture. I always love reflections in windows, I am really inspired by those in my own work. The print was huge, and I lost myself in the hundreds of details, shapes and tones present in this image. After a few minutes, I went away, but turned back few seconds later for a forgotten reason. And only at this moment I saw the reflection of William Klein on the window, appearing like a ghost behind my back.
It is a really strange feeling. First I wondered how I missed it. I actually spent a while staring at the picture before I left. I went back to look at it, and then the meaning of the picture changed. It wasn’t an urban landscape anymore. The fact we can see himself in the image made me think of the role of any photographer, his place in life and the way ones have to work.
Photography is for me the act of capturing a moment, a fraction of second or longer, which is gone when the shutter closes. As one knows, that moment will never come back. But photographers, by being behind the camera, don’t live this moment. They live their own second, they are somewhere else. They don’t actually see the moment they are capturing. And sometimes, they probably would like to. Maybe William Klein wanted to be a part of this moment he was catching. He didn’t want to be left out of the picture. So he used his reflection, the projection of his image in the scene to go against this feeling of not living the moment he finds interesting and beautiful. And this way, he is today immortalised having a drink with other New Yorkers, watching this busy urban landscape.
Thierry Fontaine, lumieres, 2012.
Thierry Fontaine, Lumieres, 2012.
I saw this photograph in the 2013 Paris Photo Show which takes place every year in Paris in the Grand Palais. I stayed quite a few minutes in front of this picture of Thierry Fontaine. First I thought it was because of the strangeness and the darkness of the picture. It almost looks surreal, like a dream vision. This picture looks completely absurd, as if the bulb were used to light a fire in order to create light, which is actually the goal of a bulb but when it is linked to electricity. But I understood quickly it wasn’t only that. It is actually coming from an important memory which always brings deep feelings to me. During an evening, when I was 18 years old, a fire started in my flat. I was with a friend, sitting on a sofa in my bedroom. While talking to him, I felt a wave of hot air on my cheek. I turned back and realised the fire was just behind us, licking the walls and the windows. We run out in the hallway and then understood it was impossible to call the firemen because our phones were in the burning room. We had to switch the fire off by throwing buckets of water on it. It was extremely hot, dangerous and we couldn’t breathe properly. We did it, but this experience was really traumatic.
It took me a long time to feel all right next to a fire, and I still panic when I see strange smokes anywhere. Today my feelings about fire are really complex, even a bit primitive. Sometimes when I look at it I am scared, of course, because it brings strong memories of this experience, but I am also fascinated by the beauty and the power of destruction this element has. And it then becomes an internal conflict. I want to go away because of the feelings it brings back but in another hand I find it beautiful and I want to keep observing it. I feel like an animal following conflicted by its instincts, as if I was becoming suddenly primal and conciousless, fascinated by something I don’t understand. It is a thing that always catch my eye in pictures and makes me look more the photograph. A lot of my personal work is inspired by these strong emotions. Sometimes it looks like I was trying to capture this fire in my pictures in order to control it and so to feel safe.
Tony Ray-Jones, Butlins, Clacton, 1967
I first saw this photograph in the Science museum of London, in the exhibition “Only in England“. It was taken by Tony Ray-Jones in 1967 and represents a large group partying in a Butlins camp. Butlins is a chain of large holiday camps in the United Kingdom. Butlins was founded by Billy Butlin to provide affordable holidays for ordinary British families. The scene takes place in what is probably a ballroom, which has a high ceiling and large paintings on walls. In the front, people are doing a race by group, holding their hands, while some others are sitting in the background, watching and commenting the race. Everybody looks quite happy and is wearing nice clothes; the sunlight comes in by the windows. It is a happy and funny scene.
However, there are two details in this picture that make it even more interesting and give deeper meanings than just a typical picture of an English middle class group in holidays during the 1960’.
The first one is the expression of the first woman in the front. It is really difficult for me to figure out if she is laughing or expressing pain. She is kneeing down in order to give the way to the woman behind her. This second woman looks like she is grabbing her arm really brutally and is hurting her companion on purposely.
Look a this face !
The second detail is the man standing between the two first groups in the front. He is probably controlling no one is cheating during the race. He is got a really creepy smile. It makes me think about these men which had to control workers in work camps.
And this creepy smile !
These two details give for me another sense to this picture. This quite happy scene of holidays becomes a torture scene. Their activity was at the first look quite funny but becomes now completely absurd and disturbing. The fact that other people are actually watching it and laughing about it makes me think about gladiators fight from the antiquity that was called “games” at this time. This picture was first depicting the beginning of holidays camps, the creation of a new habit, the evolution of the way people see holidays and summer in general. It now depict the absurdity of it, the way people do things because they think it will make them happier but then end up in hell, with plenty of other people they don’t like, doing things they hate but keep smiling to persuade themselves it is the right thing to do.
It is interesting as well to notice that this was a really big part of the style of Tony Ray-Jones. His pictures were documentaristic, but were most of the time including satirical facts and a lot of humour, as is this picture.