American photographer William Klein, an icon of street photography, has died at the age of 96

American photographer William Klein, an icon of street photography, has died at the age of 96

American photographer William Klein, an icon of street photography, has died at the age of 96

American William Klein, who revolutionized street photography and fashion photography, but also director, painter and graphic designer, died on Monday 12 September at the age of 96 in Paris, where he had lived since 1947.

The son of Hungarian Jewish immigrants, William Klein was born on April 19, 1928 in New York and grew up on the outskirts of Harlem. He wants to be a painter and already dreams of Paris “,meet Hemingway at the Ritz and Giacometti at the Coupole “he confided Publication April 16, 2002. He discovered Europe during his military service, where he was part of the occupation troops in postwar Germany. In the army, he buys a Rolleiflex by winning at poker. Thanks to a scholarship, he arrived in Paris in 1947, became interested in abstract painting and attended Fernand Léger’s studio.

William Klein was invited in 1953 to create abstract paintings to decorate the corridors of the Piccolo Teatro in Milan. His paintings of him inspire him with abstract photographs but he does not yet think of making photography his profession. It was in 1954, when he returned to New York, that his life changed. Alexander Libermann, artistic director of Vogue, loves photos of him and hires him to take fashion photographs.

“Fashion has given me extraordinary means: more flashes, sets, assistants … I was able to experiment with new techniques, which I then used for my personal work. I didn’t care. And the stylists, even less”said to Telerama on September 23, 2011. However, he revolutionized fashion photography by taking models to the street, mixing them with passers-by, playing their silhouettes with the graphics of the city.

Retrospective exhibition of photographer William Klein at the Center Pompidou Beaubourg on December 6, 2005 in Paris (PIERRE VERDY / AFP)

At the same time he pursues a personal photographic “diary” project on the streets of New York. “I have always hated pictorial photography, the fog, the drapery effects, the staging of bullshit. I was no longer convinced by the sentimental, humanistic, nostalgic and clean photography that dominated in the early 90s. 1950. I wanted to shake. he had to stay as far away from art photography as possible “he told al World May 5, 2002.

On the streets of New York, William Klein gets as close as possible to the people he captures in wide angle, distorting his subjects, with motion effects. In the press, he forces the grain, the contrasts. The bold shots of him express all the energy of a tumultuous, chaotic and moving city that he takes a new look at. This job does not interest Americans. It was in Paris that the first edition of New York (Where is it Life is good and good for you in New York: trance Witness Revels), in Le Seuil, thanks to the support of director, writer and photographer Chris Marker. This book, destined to become a monument in the history of photography, was then published in the United Kingdom, Italy and Japan. He earned him the Nadar Prize in 1957.


William Klein will then work on the streets of Rome (1958), Moscow (1964), Tokyo (1964), but it is his work in New York that has made history. Much later, in 2002, he dedicated a book (Paris + KleinMarval) and an exhibition in Paris, the city he dreamed of as a teenager, which he adopted, which he sees “multiethnic and colorful” and in color (The world, May 5, 2002). “My photograph is close to the street brothel, it goes in all directions. It is only in a demonstration that I can bring together many “faces”, multiply the combinations and organize this chaos “he said then.

William Klein has also directed numerous commercials and around twenty feature films, shorts, mediums and feature films. In the first, Broadway to the light (1958), plays in color with the lights and signs of Times Square in New York. The most famous will undoubtedly remain Who are you Polly Maggoo (1967), a satire on the world of fashion and entertainment. He also dedicated a film to Muhammad Ali, a great boxing champion and activist for the black cause, who refused to go to fight in Vietnam and followed for ten years. Another for black activist Eldridge Cleaver (Eldridge Cleaver Black Panther1969), or one to rock legend Little Richard (The story of little Richard, 1980).

Since the late 1980s he has been mixing painting and photography creating “painted contacts”: fragments of enlarged specimens that he adorns with brushstrokes of bright colors, yellow, red, blue.

In 1989, he came up with the idea for the series contacts su Arte, short thirteen-minute programs in which photographers are invited to tell their work from contact sheets, prints or slides.

William Klein has held numerous solo exhibitions in prestigious institutions around the world, at the Center Pompidou (1983, 2005), at the MoMA in New York (1980), at the Musée de l’Elysée in Lausanne (1988), at the Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco (1995), at the Rencontres d’Arles (1978, 1982, 2016), at the Tate Modern in London (2012) …

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