Unboxing William Kline’s ‘New York’

William Kline’s Life is Good and Good For You in New York Trance Witness Revels is one of those low print run, long out of print, wildly expensive, classic photobooks that pop up in discussions from time to time. I don’t recall what brought it to mind for me, but I went hunting and was able to find the Errata Editions reprint (Books on Books #5) for a song.

To be honest, on my first flip through, I was wildly unimpressed. The images are very contrasty, with dark blacks, bright whites, and not much else, and it all just tumbles, helter skelter. But when I sat and looked at it for awhile, I found that it made sense: it looks like a newspaper, stripped of the headlines and paragraphs—in some spreads, with images in place of headlines and paragraphs—and it seems this is exactly what Kline was after.

William Kline was born in New York, but studied in Paris, and on returning to his hometown for a visit in 1954, he found something different, a sleaze, that he captured, quite successfully, in New York, and it’s no wonder that New York became one of those photobooks.

These reprints from Errata Editions (I have another one—Beyond Caring by Paul Graham—that I’ll get around to reviewing at some point) are great ways to get to experience these classic old books, though the reprint suffers a bit. Many spreads from the book are printed 2 to a page (so 4 spreads from the original on one spread in the reprint), which means probably the most famous image from New York, this one, is rather tiny in the reprint, where it was printed full bleed in the original. Plus, the reprint series are all the same size and the same paper stock (the two I have are, anyway), so any of the physical properties, the texture of the paper, for example, that contribute to the overall experience of the book are completely lost. So while it’s an inexpensive, readily available way to experience unavailable old books, it’s a completely different experience than you would get from the original (or a more faithful reprint), and I don’t think I can honestly give this a review, in my normal scheme.

Other books covered in the Books on Books series are smaller collections of photographs, so each spread can be an equivalent spread in the Errata Editions edition. But not New York, sadly, and I’m not sure how they decided which to present as full spreads, and which to shrink, and not sure why they left Gun 1 as tiny as they did.

It’s not all bad: the essays at the end are informative, and this one includes one of Kline’s contact sheets. But it’s also not like a normal photobook, really, let alone the originals.

It’s probably still worth picking up, used, if you find a good price on it, and may also be worth selling off when you get tired of it. I’m glad to have New York, for now, but ask me again in a year or two, and I wonder if it’ll still be on the shelf.

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