New York: Life is Good & Good For You In New York! Trance Witness Reveals. Photographs by William Klein. Photography Magazine, London, 1956. 192 pp. Quarto. First British edition. Clothbound with gilt title. Illustrated dust jacket. Contains 'tourist booklet', which remains firmly attached by the cord as issued. Full-page gravure reproductions.
Inscription from Jonathan Williams, dated '59, to J.M. 'Mel' Edelstein and his wife Eleanor reads: 'For Mel & The First/book on/ New York/ by a/ Martian/from/ the planetoid/Jargon"
Jonathan Williams, founder of Jargon Society, was one of a central figures in the post-war American avant-garde, particularly poetry. Photobook collectors will be familiar with Jargon from Ralph Eugene Meatyard's brilliant book, The Family Album of Lucybelle Crater (1974). He was closely associated with Black Mountain College, the hotbed of experimental art that nurtured the likes of Robert Rauschenberg, John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Charles Olsen, Cy Twombley, and many, many others.
From The Guardian's 2008 Obituary for Williams:
"[Williams] founded the Jargon Society as a means of keeping "afloat the Ark of Culture in these dark and tacky times!" More than 100 volumes and broadsides surfaced, among them seminal works of the avant-garde by Olson, Paul Metcalf, Lorine Niedecker, Mina Loy, Joel Oppenheimer, Robert Duncan, Louis Zukofsky, Michael McClure and Buckminster Fuller, each one impeccably crafted for Williams' own pleasure. Jargon's sole commercial success was White Trash Cooking, a collection of recipes and photographs drawn from the "last frontier" of inter-national cuisine by Ernest Matthew Mickler, including such borderline inedibles as rack of spam and the anti-stick peanut butter sandwich. Williams was delighted by a Vogue review that credited the book for "seeing clearly, without condescension".
J.M. 'Mel' Edelstein was on the board of Jargon Society. He was head librarian at the National Gallery of Art, and later a bibliographer and curator at the Getty Museum. He was a voracious collector of small press books and art books and a scholar of incredibly wide ranging interests. He wrote the definitive studies of the poet Wallace Stevens and was instrumental in building the Getty's collection of Italian Renaissance and Baroque festival books.
"Improvising, thriving on accident and surprise, Klein turned out raw, kinetic, and utterly original photographs--each one a gut reaction to the energy of the urban street, writes Vince Aletti in Roth, et. al., The Book of 101 Books: Seminal Photographic Books of the Twentieth Century. Picking up on the same theme Martin Parr and Gerry Badger write that the "book's internal rhythm contains as many cadences, breaks and unexpected flights of fancy as a Sonny Rollins sax solo" [The Photobook: A History, Vol. 1). Aletti goes on to say that "...Between [its] covers, rules were being broken. No two pages were alike: full-bleed images were followed by white-bordered pictures set on black pages; a stack of small photos was set next to a shot so big it straddled the gutter; one spread looked like a scrapbook, another like a checkerboard. A long, narrow insert that looked like a supermarket handout contained rambling captions peppered with bra ads, tabloid headlines, a Mad magazine cover, a can of spaghetti. It was cheesy, delirious, pure Pop art. Klein went on to make similarly splashy books on Rome (1958-59), Tokyo (1964), and Moscow (1964), as well as the inevitable films, but New York remains matchless, a time bomb that's never been defused."
Review of William Klein’s New York by Minor White, originally published in "Image Magazine", Journal of Photography of the George Eastman House, September, 1957 and posted on the American Suburb American Suburb X blog
"Raucous is the word for William Klein’s New York. Sensational in the worst sense of that word; still after the cacophonous din gets out of your eyes, the pictures resemble memories of what one has seen in the big, bad city. And after one stops feeling sorry for the poor scientists who slave, sweat, and die to make photographic materials that yield continuous tone, beautiful continuous tone, the book begins to look exciting. It may even be truthful in a narrow vein.
"The book is down to earth literally. It proves, however, that the 'ain’t it a shame' school has changed. It is not shameful any more, but bawdy, gaudy and tawdry. People squirm through the book like Gustav Dore’s illustrations of the Inferno. Rut Dante’s Inferno here is only a pile of angleworms loving the rut. Animal living is photographed full tide with barely a moment of lyricism, none of beauty, and tragedy only a match struck on the seat of the pants.
There is no point selecting a few favorites; if one does one misses the violence of contrasts. If one stops to decide which pictures are good and which bad, the turmoil of pulsating life is not experienced. And if that is lost, the rest is nothing.
"How illuminating it would be if we could listen to Lewis W. Hine comment on this book. He might well think that the people found in Klein’s New York were not worth his lifetime of reformist efforts. He might regret his life spent trying to improve living conditions thereby hoping to improve people. He had a love for people. By comparison Klein loves only the excitement of riding high on the shoulders of the vulgar, noisy throng.
Though similarities exist, Klein’s book is not a sociological document such as Hine’s Ellis Island. A different age, a different period is only part of the difference. Actually Klein did not photograph a city; he matched with cheap sensational photography the vulgarity of life in all its ugliness.
As Rernard Rerenson, eminent art critic, would object, this book has no “life enhancing” qualities."
The ASX Editor’s note: "Sometimes it is difficult to see the special until you get some distance down the road. For some, it is particularly difficult. It appears that Minor White fell into this trap, a trap of clinging to an aesthetic that is fading, shifting and losing ground. At the same time, he missed something that was coming and gaining speed. The 60's & 70's would mark a turning point and the Minor’s, Weston’s and Adam’s and their focus on the reverent and the spiritual, on the tonal qualities and the zone system, all of this would take a back seat to other, more energetic, tension-filled and exciting variations of this lovely and 'vulgar' craft that is called photography.)"
Near Fine in Near Fine- dust jacket; moderate foxing upper board edge; light wear to extremities; booklet present, but detached, string in two pieces; edge wear with a few small chips; slight loss upper edge rear panel; 1" tear with some adjacent creasing (also rear panel).