Klein was best known for his photography, which encompassed and intermingled a wide range of subjects including candid street photography, kinetic fashion shoots, and high contrast abstract work. He also maintained strong cinematic and pictorial practices.
William Klein takes pictures during Paris Plage on August 15, 2005. Credit: Elise Hardy/Gamma-Rapho/Getty Images
Klein was born in New York in 1926 and lived there until he was 20, when he was sent to Europe by the United States Army to help with reconstruction efforts after World War II. He obtained his first camera – which he won in a card game – during this trip and ended up settling in Paris, where he studied painting and sculpture at the Sorbonne and worked in the studio of the famous modernist painter Fernand Léger.
American photographer William Klein in front of photos from the New York series at the Retrospective Photographs and Films photography exhibition at the C/O Galerie photography museum in Berlin, Germany on April 28, 2017 Credit: Imago/Zumapress/FILE
It was in Europe that Klein began to seriously pursue his great love, photography, and he soon began to transpose the abstract forms of his paintings and sculptural studies into dark geometric photographs of moving objects, as seen in compositions such as “Moving Diamonds” from 1952. , Mural Project, Paris” or “Turning Black Egg”.
Klein’s experimentation quickly earned her a fan in her hometown: Alexander Lieberman, artistic director of Vogue, who helped bring Klein’s kineticism into the glittering realm of haute couture. Klein found inspiration in the bustling, bustling chaos of the streets of New York where he spent his youth, and spent days wandering the city, taking pictures of strangers and talking with them about their lives, as immortalized in his iconic 1956 photobook “Life is Good and Good for You in New York: Trance Witness Revels.”
He soon began shooting his editorials on the streets as well, placing models in the middle of crowds and taxis and photographing them in striking, almost surreal scenes of clutter and poise. In an era still dominated by the stylized studio shots of photographers like Irving Penn and Richard Avedon, Klein’s decision to bring fashion photography back to the bustling friction of the streets was considered groundbreaking.
U.S. photographer William Klein takes pictures during an exhibition titled ‘William Klein Rome photos – 1956/1960’, at Trajan’s market in Rome April 13, 2010. Credit: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP/Getty Images
His desire to capture life as it actually happened would persist throughout his films as they grew to encompass subjects such as Black Panther activist Eldridge Cleaver’s escape from America and the tennis tournament of Roland Garros in 1981.
A visitor walks past several works by American contemporary photographer William Klein during a press preview, on display at the ‘William Klein’ exhibition at La Pedrera cultural center in Barcelona, Catalonia, northeastern Spain, on 5 March 2020. Credit: Enric Fontcuberta/EFE/Zumapress
Klein’s varied talents have won him praise in the worlds of fashion, film and fine art, and he has received numerous accolades, including the Medal of the Century from the Royal Photographic Society of London in 1999 and the Infinity Award for Lifetime Achievement from the International Center of Photography. in 2007, as well as countless exhibitions and museum acquisitions. (A major exhibition of his at the International Center of Photography which was due to close on Monday has been extended to Thursday.)
Despite his accomplishments in so many media, Klein always returned to photography and remained an active photographer well into his later years.
“I have a special relationship with God,” Klein told Interview of her approach to her favorite discipline. “And when I take the right shot, God gives me a little bing! in the camera. And then I know I’m on the right track.”