The Street Life

William Klein, the cranky old man of American photography, has a new book, “Paris + Klein,” in which he captures street life in the City of Light.

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William Klein’s self-portrait.

Photo By Howard Greenberg Gallery

PARIS — "I like the streets," says William Klein, the cranky old man of American photography. "I grew up in the streets."

He has also, over the course of his long but erratic career, always worked in the streets, as fans of his cult photo books "New York" (1954-55), "Rome" (1956), "Moscow" (1960), "Tokyo" (1961) know.

Now arrives his latest, "Paris + Klein" (DAP), accompanied by an exhibition of some 80 images at the Hermès flagship on Madison Avenue opening April 9. For those who don’t know Klein, "Paris + Klein" proves that at 75, he has lost none of the feral roaming instincts that drove him to the streets "like a maniac" some 50 years ago.

This newest opus opens at the thronged Bastille Day celebrations in 2000 and roams on through all 20 arrondissements — to gay pride parades, funeral marches, political rallies, beery public festivals, frenzied backstage fashion scenes, elbow-filled charity balls and fleshy public hammans. Perhaps 4 out of 330-plus images in "Paris + Klein" contain but a single person. The rest strain to capture the multitudes of la grande publique.

The only question is why he didn’t do it earlier.

"I didn’t think of doing a book on Paris because I’m living here," says Klein, in his apartment above the trafficky main street along the Luxembourg Gardens. "In Moscow or Tokyo, I discovered something I didn’t know. Paris? It’s not exotic. It’s not something that excites me."

All the same, after completing his last film project — a documentary about Handel’s "Messiah" — a bout of post-production blues drove him out of the house, Leica in hand.

"I discovered I didn’t know Paris that well," acknowledges Klein, even though he’s lived here most of his adult life. "It was an adventure treating Paris like some foreign land."

If the resulting headlong rush through the City of Light doesn’t quite surprise as "New York" did in 1955, it’s only a testament that Klein’s early style — grungy and ad hoc, gamey and democratic, inspired by the voyeur — has become part of the modern canon.
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