William Klein MMoCA Collects

Hamburger 40 cents

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William Klein, Hamburger 40 cents, New York, vintage gelatin silver print, 1955.
William Klein. © William Klein. Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, NYC.

William Klein stands in front of a typical New York coffee shop with his camera and snaps his shutter. Since this restaurant is faced in plate glass, the camera can see inside. The window itself is filled with signs advertising meals and prices on the menu: sirloin steak, beef stew, breaded veal cutlet, and the 40-cent hamburger that gives the photograph its name. A man sits at the counter on one of several vinyl-top chrome stools. We catch a glimpse of condiments and a record selector that allows customers to play tunes from a jukebox while eating their meals. We notice the fluorescent fixtures on the ceiling above. But we cannot see everything; the glass window-front reflects much of the street outside. Windows are partially draped on the other side of the street. The restaurant is on a corner and we see the street that crosses the one we are on. Cars and pedestrians come and go. The quiet of the coffee shop's interior contrasts with the movements of the city.

Klein's photograph is not a simple document. It is an uncalculated, spontaneous snapshot that catches life on the wing. But Klein knew exactly what he was doing when he aimed his camera at this particular coffee shop. With nothing to bracket the glass window, he thrusts us into the action of the city. The reflections fragment things into a crazy jigsaw puzzle whose pieces do not quite fit. Our eye is confused. As it darts about trying to make sense of what we see, the photographer artfully conveys the rhythms and energy of New York.