… Klein offers us the American public as spectators at a coliseum.
Continuing through New York: Capital of Photography by Max Kozloff (2002):
… Between the ethnic or racial cultures of New York, in staggered renewal, and the metropolitan host culture, unable to identify itself except through its wealth and consumerism, a huge gap opened. New York, during the 1950s, revealed social chasms that fissured the nation’s self-satisfaction. Like many intellectuals, photographers may have been critical or our imperium, yet they tended to study its mood rather than to analyze or protest its policy.
[line break added] They were situated in a metropolis that claimed a central position in the world, even though it could not integrate its communities. New York in the 1950s lacked “soul,” a quality Paris had in abundance. Our photographers could be utterly riveted by their circumstances while not feeling in the least resident within them.
… Certain previous ideas about New York were transformed by its visualization in the 1950s. Where once they had sought social connectedness with the crowd, photographers began to demonstrate their external relation to scenes that were staked out by others. Partly this was a question of a certain self-consciousness that observers — in this instance, Jewish — registered as individuals within a mass.
[line break added] Though some of their predecessors had seen that mass — or constituents thereof — as a vital organism, younger photographers tended to conceive of it as a conformist throng. Their own identity, however, brought with it new uncertainties, a sense of disaffiliation, which more and more became the subject of their contact with New York. The city, under these circumstances, became a source of dismal allure, and also of a faint odium.
[ … ]
William Klein, Broadway and 103rd Street, New York, 1954-55
… It is as if the photographer [William Klein] snapped his fingers and a preposterous image culture came alive on both sides of the camera, each party wise to the other. Any cap pistol pointed by a little boy is a surrogate camera, and vice versa. These people, young and old, assume themselves equal to any competition. The fans at Ebbets Field root for their team yet can easily be imagined doing the same for the Pax Americana.
[line break added] Although they didn’t exactly pose for their collective portrait, they knew themselves to be in one, at a particular moment, and somehow Klein gives that confrontational moment a historical cast. Compared to Sidney Grossman’s group portraits and Weegee’s crowds at Coney Island, Klein offers us the American public as spectators at a coliseum.
William Klein, Presentation, Ebbets Field, New York, 1955