Gear: Book Review: Klemantaski, Master Motorsports Photographer

Book Review: Klemantaski, Master Motorsports Photographer

By Benjamin Shahrabani
February 18, 2015
5 comments

The book: Klemantaski, Master Motorsports Photographer

Author: Paul Parker

Photography: Louis Klemantaski from The Klemantaski Collection

Pages: 272

Purchase: Click here

Photographer Louis Klemantaski (1912-2001) was a near constant presence at continental motorsport events from 1936 through 1974. These years are considered by many to be racing’s golden era, and the photographer could often found in the pits, on the infield of a racetrack – taking photographs just feet away from his fast travelling subjects – or even riding shotgun in a racing car. Klemantaski, Master Motorsports Photographer is a curated collection of more than 300 black & white and color images, some not published before, out of an estimated 60,000 the photographer captured during his long career. Descriptions by author Paul Parker, a UK based auto journalist and historian give context to the times, places, and people that are the subjects of Klemantaski’s work. Of Polish ancestry, but born in the Manchurian city of Harbin, now part of China, Klemantaski’s father had hoped to build his fortune by exporting soybeans and importing Willys–Knight and Overland automobiles. Klemantaski was thus driving by himself at the age of ten in those very cars, and that same year received a “Brownie” box camera. The mold was thus cast.

Klemantaski’s father was also an English citizen, and sent his son to England for what he hoped would be a formal education. Instead, it was there where Klemantaski discovered auto racing, but a lack of funds, and a very bad leg injury sustained in racing permanently dashed those hopes. Turning back to photography, he became a frequent fixture at the racetrack, only this time as a photographer. Editors who had trouble spelling his name published his photos with the byline “Himself”. During World War II, he would enlist in England’s Department of Miscellaneous Weapons Development at the Admiralty, where his photographic talents were useful in assessing the potential of new weapons, including the development of Barnes Wallis’s bouncing bomb. After the cessation of hostilities, he turned to motorsports photography full time. Perhaps, having experienced the sport first-hand gave Klemantaski a unique perspective many photographers wouldn’t, or couldn’t appreciate – and not being able to do it himself anymore meant the next best thing was inserting himself into the action. “I knew enough about racing,” Klemantaski would explain, “to know what a car would be doing that critical fraction of a second after I pressed the button.” Klemantaski’s pictures are crisp and evocative, and one gets the sense of the photographer not merely documenting a subject from afar, but trying to really capturing the subjects, and events from within. To wit, the photographer seems to always be in the thick of things, close to the action. He captures the participants themselves, what was happening in the pits, the stands, the surrounding countryside – the human side of things. He is there in the cockpit too – personally navigating three Monte Carlo rallies, and five Mille Miglia road races, four of them with friend, and Ferrari driver Peter Collins. The volume, scope, and artistic tension of the photographs are certainly made even more impressive when one pauses to consider the medium and cameras available at the time – film, not digital, and cameras with far inferior technology than one takes for granted today.

Given his background, It seems just a small jump in thinking to believe that Klemantaski would do something with cars, or photography when he became an adult – and he did both, at least for a while. Through the 272-pages, it is evident that Klemantaski did more than simply spectate – he was a fixture. At Grand Prix events, Le Mans and the Mille Miglia, amongst others, from the mid 1930s onward till his retirement, his eye never left him. Klemantaski captured all the moments in racing – the seemingly ordinary moments, through the ones that are truly visceral during the era of racing giants. No racing or photography fan will want to miss this book.

Purchase Master Motosports Photographer Klemantaski.

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Dave Rook
Dave Rook
7 years ago

Inspirational book – fortunately made my Christmas list but arrived mid January. Great stories to drop in and out of, plus the images demonstrate the sheer bravery of photographers back then. Such a wealth of fantastic machines and scenery, plus many images that are recognisable / famous. So many great opportunities, and so well captured, with a real human element to them.

Martin James
Martin James
7 years ago

Benjamin – One of the [ many ] joys of being a ‘ Boomer ‘ GearHead here in the US back in the day was being introduced to Klemantaski’s work and storied career by Road & Track magazine [ back in its heyday … not the current shadow of its former self it has become ] From feature articles .. book & portfolio reviews [ specializing mostly in Ferrari and Grand Prix/F1 ].. along with for an extended period of time each and every monthly issue having a full page reproduction of one of his many photos from the Klemantaski collection

Ahhh .. back in the glory years of automotive journalism … when the past was as important as the present … journalists had yet to of been bought out by the corporate interests [ read automotive manufactures and advertisers ] .. and being a GearHead meant having an appreciation for everything from the classics .. to the contemporary .. from muscle cars .. to exotics .. .. from stock … to highly modified … to boats and planes … and even the pedestrian family contrivance that somehow managed to rise above the norm

Martin James
Martin James
7 years ago

Klemantaski was the absolute [ in my opinion ] pinnacle of automotive and racing photography … therefore any book .. at any price is well worth the price of entry and should most definitely be in any serious GearHeads collection/library ! 272 pages may be too few to seriously cover his work …. but regardless it’ll be a damn fine start/overview .. especially for those unfamiliar with Klemantaski’s work . And at $75 in light of what some of his previous books/portfolios have sold for .. has to be considered a bit of a bargain in comparison !

e.g. The Petrolicious site’s official , Grade A , Government Inspected ‘ Grump ‘ says ….. BUY it !

Matthew Lange
Matthew Lange
7 years ago

The book missed my Christmas list by virtue of not being available until January. Definitely want to get a copy.