William Klein




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Early Life

William Klein was born in New York on 19 April 1928. His parents were the children of Jewish Hungarian immigrants. While growing up in an Irish neighbourhood he experienced anti- Semitism, leaving him feeling alienated at school. He subsequently spent many days of truancy in happy relief at the Museum of Modern Art.

At fourteen, three years ahead of his peers, he graduated from high school, and went to study sociology at the City College of New York. At eighteen he joined the US army for two years where he was sent to Germany and France. On being discharged he remained in France and in 1948 moved to Paris, enrolling at the Sorbonne to study history of art. The following year he briefly studied painting under Fernand Léger, whose influence may be seen in Klein’s photographs.

Photographic Career

In 1952 Klein held two solo exhibitions in Milan, where he collaborated with the architect Angelo Mangiarotti. It was through these exhibitions that he took his first steps towards his career as a photographer. He also met Alexander Liberman, the art director of Vogue, with whom he shared an interest in kinetic sculpture. Liberman was impressed by Klein’s exhibition, particularly the photographs, and invited him to return to New York.

Over an intense eight-month period, Klein created his photographic diary of New York, but the photographs were never actually published by Vogue. Liberman was positive about them, but Vogue was shocked by what they regarded as a crude and vulgar view of the city.

Despite this, and despite his total lack of experience in the area, Liberman offered Klein a job as a fashion photographer for the magazine. That same year, they published an article on Klein called A New Photographic Eye. Klein took his photo-diary of New York to Paris, where it was finally published by Editions du Seuil as, Life is Good & Good for You in New York. In 1957, a year after it was published, Klein was awarded the Prix Nadar for it, despite the controversy surrounding the photographs. He went on to produce three more books, Rome (1958), Moscow (1959-61) and Tokyo (1961).

Between 1965 and the 1980s, Klein abandoned photography and focused on film, producing various documentaries and television commercials. In the 1980s, Klein returned to photography once more and was awarded the Hasselblad Award in 1990. During the 1990s, he began creating mixed media works of art, combining painting and photography.

Although fashion photography had seemed an unlikely area for Klein to enter, with the help of Liberman, he became revolutionary in his ambivalent and ironic approach to the world of fashion. His photographs are characterised by natural lighting, high contrast, motion blur, the stretching and distorting of shapes due to his use of wide-angle lenses for close-ups, over-exposure with flash and the use of high-grain film.