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William Klein: Hard-Edged Artist Warms to 'Messiah'

Always on the go, his latest project is a film that juxtaposes versions of Handel's work with vignettes into the lives of those who sing it

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His spacious apartment overlooks the sumptuous Luxembourg Gardens. By Paris standards, his place is gigantic. At first glance, it appears an unlikely home for the experimental and iconoclastic artist William Klein. But it does not take long to realize that Klein is about much more than the early photographs that first earned him critical acclaim.

Graphic tableaus, as well as more recent oversized painted photo contacts, line the walls. And as he talks, he pulls out countless catalogs, pamphlets, and articles that fill in the gaps of his nonstop career as a painter, photographer, graphic artist, and filmmaker.

"When I first came to Paris after the war [World War II], my friends and I quickly turned to the Bauhaus [architectural school founded in Germany in 1919]. Their whole idea of multimedia, interdisciplinary work interested me."

Despite society's current fetish for specialization, Klein still manages to balance his various creative energies. And he's as active as ever. "My wife complains sometimes," he chuckles. "When we go to the country, I still fill my car up with all sorts of things I haven't done. I work all the time really."

Shocking photographs

Klein arrived on the art scene with a big bang. In the space of eight years between 1956 and 1964, he produced four books of photography, which shook the very roots of this medium's young tradition. The books, titled "New York," "Rome," "Moscow," and "Tokyo," are filled with raw, grainy, swirling yet abrupt images, which visually describe these cities in a manner never previously seen before. His pictures of life in these cities speak with an unforgiving realism, but they also make visual the psychological and sociological mood of the time.

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