Book Review: ‘Klemantaski: Master Motorsports Photographer’
You might not have heard of photographer Louis Klemantaski (1912-2001), but you probably have seen his work. Through his portfolio of over 60,000 images, the golden era of motorsports racing has been documented in a detailed, authentic way. Known for being in the thick of the action and in the pits alongside the crews, Klemantaski didn’t just document racing–he captured it.
However, despite his work being gathered in The Klemantaski Collection library, the auteur’s legacy has never been organized in a compendium that’s accessible to public fans.
Bolstered by the research of English motor racing historian Paul Parker, this prestigious book showcases 300 photos taken over Klemantaski’s long career.
Klemantaski: Master Motorsports Photographer
Text by Paul Parker; Photographs by Louis Klemantaski
Product Details: Hardcover, 272 pages, 10.2 x 12.4 inches
Publication Date: January 2016
Publisher: Motorbooks, an imprint of Quarto Publishing Group
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Klemantaski: Master Motorsports Photographer is the only book in print devoted to highlighting the man’s groundbreaking photography.
Born in 1912 in China to Dutch and Russian parents, Louis Klemantaski learned to drive early and was drawn to the automotive world. A terrible accident left him permanently inured, but he still found a way to remain involved: photography.
A master at his craft, both technically operating a camera and in his vision of where to point it, Klemantaski spent decades from World War II to the late 1960s capturing races around the world. His images of cars whipping by on the track as well as ordinary moments–like mechanics sharing a laugh in the garage–have become the best source of preserved automotive history from a bygone era.
The book is divided into four sections that chronicle different time periods of Klemantaski’s life and the racing world:
- 1935-1939: Time Is Running Out
- 1946-1949: Normality Returns, but Not to Great Britain
- 1950-1957: Full Engagement
- 1958-1967: Winding Down
The quality of Klemantaski Master Motorsports Photographer is exactly what the man’s work deserves. The sturdy book is well-bound, durable, straight, and easy to flip through. It’s perfectly sized for a coffee table or a book case (though it really deserves the former) and comes in a glossy, classy dust jacket that exhibits some of his best work. Like Klemantaski’s legacy, this book is made to last for a long time
The 272 pages are filled with 300+ images–some of them previously unpublished–and detailed accompanying text. The printing is high-quality, as none of the images appear grainy, faded, or blurry. Printing the book in a wide, landscape layout allows the photos to fill up each page rather than be crammed between blocks of text.
Each section begins with a page explaining the historical, social, and industrial context to the time period shown, as well as where Klemantaski’s career was at the time. The captions are highly detailed, full sentences and ideas that read more like a presentation than labels. The Introduction is also helpful to understand the photographer’s life and the work that went into making Klemantaski Master Motorsports Photographer.
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While I am a casual fan of auto racing and photography, I can’t say that I was a Klemantaski enthusiast–or even knew about him–before reading this book. Coming at Klemantaski Master Motorsports Photographer as an outsider, I wanted to gain an appreciation for the man’s work and learn about his legacy through this exhaustive compendium. For the most part, I did.
The photographs speak for themselves–even 70 years later, they grab your attention with their intensity, movement, and composition. Plus, the black-and-white palate only enhance those qualities, not distracted by color tones. So, regardless of the quality of the text, the images themselves are glorious. One can truly see Klemantaski’s dedication to capturing each high-speed and ordinary moment equally.
Parker honors the photographs in his accompanying text. It’s clear the author/historian put a painstaking amount of work into gathering the facts on each image in the book. The captions are filled with cold, hard facts about who is in the image, what is being driven, where, and when; they don’t necessarily explain the significance of each photograph, what makes it stand out, or what’s worth noting within the images themselves.
Thus, the book is less about the photographs themselves and more of a gateway into that era of racing–the subjects documented in the images. So to truly appreciate Klemantaski Master Motorsports Photographer, you need a working knowledge of the times. To those who do not, it will read like a foreign language.
If you’re a fan of photography, looking for a discussion of the artistic techniques and merits of Klemantaski’s work, you’ll have to look elsewhere. Klemantaski Master Motorsports Photographer, like a genuine archive, is filled with documentation of a man’s life’s work and is aimed squarely at those who appreciate it. And unquestionably, that’s where it delivers.
Klemantaski: Master Motorsports Photographer is available through the publisher’s website, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other retailers.
- Aaron WidmarSenior Editor
Aaron is unashamed to be a native Clevelander and the proud driver of a 1995 Saturn SC-2 (knock on wood). He gleefully utilizes his background in theater, literature, and communication to dramatically recite his own articles to nearby youth. Mr. Widmar happily resides in Dayton, Ohio with his magnificent wife, Vicki, but is often on the road with her exploring new destinations. Aaron has high aspirations for his writing career but often gets distracted pondering the profound nature of the human condition and forgets what he was writing... See more articles by Aaron.