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KLEMANTASKI’S FINE EYE

LOUIS KLEMANTASKI produced fine photography of the greatest eras of motorsport.

The period 1935 – 1939 had Tazio Nuvolari contesting (and finally joining) the Third-Reich-sponsored mights of Auto Union and Mercedes-Benz.

The post-war years 1946 – 1957 were when many of us first savored international motorsports. Ferrari and Jaguar emerged as combatants and Argentinian Juan Manuel Fangio bested all in his fabled Maserati drives.

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Klemantaski: Master Motorsports Photographer, text by Paul Parker, photography by Louis Klemantaski from The Klemantaski Collection, 2014. This Limited Edition of 100 is sold out; a standard edition is available. Shown on this cover is Juan Manuel Fangio in his Maserati 250F.

The years 1958 – 1967 found motorsports increasingly regulated (sanitized?). But it evolved with the advent of British constructors dominating Formula One. Louis Klemantaski and his cameras were there throughout.

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Louis Klemantaski, 1907 – 2001, motorsports and portrait photographer, wine connoisseur, gourmet. This and other images from Klemantaski: Master Motorsports Photographer.

Klemantaski was born to wealthy parents living in Manchuria. His Dutch father (with Polish roots dating back to the Napoleonic era) was in the Willys-Overland auto business there; his mother was Russian. At age 16, Louis traveled to England, in part on the Trans-Siberian Railway, to continue his education there.

In the 1930s, Klemantaski raced cars at Brooklands. For other lore of this British race circuit, see “Brooklands Double-Twelve,” http://wp.me/p2ETap-sk.

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Junior Car Club event, Brooklands circuit, May 6, 1939. This iconic photo of ERA driver Norman Wilson exemplifies Klemantaski’s capturing the spirit of racing.

During this time, Klemantaski helped support his own racing by selling motorsports photos to publications and fellow competitors.

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A less familiar Klemantaski image shows Giulio Ramponi at the wheel of a Delage 15-S-8 at Donington race circuit, August 29, 1936. For more on this particular car, see “1926 Delage 15-S-8,” http://wp.me/p2ETap-2IQ.

During World War II, Klemantaski’s photographic talents were employed in the British Admiralty’s Department of Miscellaneous Weapons Development. Among other projects, he contributed to development of the bouncing bomb renowned for its use with RAF Lancaster “Dam Busters.”

After the war, Klemantaski combined portrait photography (of the likes of Igor Stravinski) with automaker assignments. Both activities funded his true vocation, photographing motorsports throughout Europe.

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Another wonderful driver study: Duncan Hamilton (of Touch Wood! fame) racing a pre-war Maserati 6CM at the British Grand Prix, Silverstone, May 14, 1949.

Today’s shooters of digital photography can appreciate Klemantaski’s immense skill in the days of cameras sans motor drives. Also, given his proximity to the action, ponder his concentration (and bravery).

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The master photographer at work.

Klemantaski and his cameras did more than simply spectate. He navigated three Monte Carlo rallies and five Mille Miglia road races, four of them with friend and Ferrari driver Peter Collins.

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Above, an often reproduced photo, but no less thrilling. In the Ferrari cockpit with Peter Collins, Mille Miglia, May 11, 12, 1957. Below, action from the same race.

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Collins and Klemantaski finished 2nd in the 1956 Mille Miglia; but for a failed axle, they almost won in 1957, the race’s last running.

The book contains many images that are new to me. A dramatic one from 1960 Monaco shows a motor racing hero of mine, Innes Ireland, valiantly pushing his Lotus after it failed halfway up the hill at Beau Rivage.

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Monaco Grand Prix, May 20, 1960. Innes Ireland pushes his Lotus past the Hotel de Paris.

Innes reasoned that if he pushed the car to the top at Casino, he could then coast downhill back to sea level and continue pushing it to the checkered flag. He did so to finish 9th. There’s an equally dramatic video showing part of this at http://goo.gl/EPYNFC.

Others of the Klemantaski images are personality shots of a lighthearted sort. I especially enjoy the following.

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Syracuse Grand Prix weekend, Sicily, April 1956. Film actress Fiamma Breschi apparently unimpressed with English motorsports journalist Denis Jenkinson.

All in all, this book is a wonderful selection of 300 of Klemantaski’s marvelous photos. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com. 2015

3 comments on “KLEMANTASKI’S FINE EYE

  1. Victor A. Ceicys
    January 23, 2015

    Great picture of Jenks and the disinterested actress!

  2. Frank Barrett
    June 15, 2015

    The MM photo of the Mercedes-Benz 220S or SE (more likely) has always been a favorite of mine because I owned and restored a ’59 220SE sedan. See my Facebook page.

  3. Skip Cusack
    February 9, 2016

    Great piece! I have to think that while Ms. Breschi may have been looking down upon Jenks figuratively she probably also did so literally. Given the photo and the related fields of Jenks and Klemantaski, one would think they had plenty to talk about after the latter came in second in the 1956 MM, and the former famously finished first the year before.

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