William Klein (photographer)

William Klein (born April 19, 1928) is an American-born French photographer and filmmaker noted for his ironic approach[1][2] to both media and his extensive use of unusual photographic techniques in the context of photojournalism and fashion photography.[1] He was ranked 25th on Professional Photographer's list of 100 most influential photographers.[3]

William Klein
Klein at the Cinémathèque française in 2008
Born (1928-04-19) April 19, 1928
NationalityAmerican / French
EducationCity College of New York, La Sorbonne, studied with Fernand Léger
Known forPhotography, cinema, painting
AwardsPrix Nadar (1957), Prix Jean Vigo (1967), Hasselblad Award (1990), Royal Photographic Society's Centenary Medal and Honorary Fellowship (1999), Outstanding Contribution to Photography Award, Sony World Photography Awards (2012)

Klein trained as a painter, studying under Fernand Léger, and found early success with exhibitions of his work. He soon moved on to photography and achieved widespread fame as a fashion photographer for Vogue and for his photo essays on various cities. He has directed feature-length fiction films, numerous short and feature-length documentaries and has produced over 250 television commercials.

He has been awarded the Prix Nadar in 1957, the Royal Photographic Society's Centenary Medal and Honorary Fellowship (HonFRPS) in 1999, and the Outstanding Contribution to Photography Award at the Sony World Photography Awards[4] in 2012.

Life and work

Klein was born in New York City into an impoverished Jewish family.[5] He graduated from high school early and enrolled at the City College of New York at the age of 14[5] to study sociology. He joined the US Army and was stationed in Germany and later France, where he would permanently settle after being discharged.

In 1948, Klein enrolled at the Sorbonne, and later studied with Fernand Léger. At the time, Klein was interested in abstract painting and sculpture. In 1952, he had two successful solo exhibitions in Milan and began a collaboration with the architect Angelo Mangiarotti.[5] Klein also experimented with kinetic art, and it was at an exhibition of his kinetic sculptures that he met Alexander Liberman, the art director for Vogue.

He moved on to photography and achieved widespread fame as a fashion photographer for Vogue and for his photo essays on various cities. Despite having no formal training as a photographer, Klein won the Prix Nadar in 1957 for New York, a book of photographs taken during a brief return to his hometown in 1954. Klein's work was considered revolutionary for its "ambivalent and ironic approach to the world of fashion",[1] its "uncompromising rejection of the then prevailing rules of photography"[1] and for his extensive use of wide-angle and telephoto lenses, natural lighting and motion blur.[1] The New York Times' Katherine Knorr writes that, along with Robert Frank, Klein is considered "among the fathers of street photography, one of those mixed compliments that classifies a man who is hard to classify."[6]

Klein's most popular photographic works are Gun 1, New York (1955), The Holy family on bike (Rome, 1956), Cineposter (Tokyo, 1961), Vogue (fashion models in the streets of New York, Rome and Paris for Vogue magazine, 1963), Love on the Beat (Serge Gainsbourg album sleeve, 1984), Club Allegro Fortissimo (1990) and Autoportrait (a book of painted contact prints, 1995).

The world of fashion would become the subject for the first feature film Klein directed in 1966, Who Are You, Polly Maggoo?, which, like his other two fiction features, Mr. Freedom and The Model Couple, is a satire. He has directed numerous short and feature-length documentaries,[7] including the cinéma vérité documentary Grands soirs et petits matins, the 1964 documentary Cassius the Great, re-edited with new footage as Muhammed Ali, The Greatest in 1969. He has produced over 250 television commercials.[7] A long time tennis fan, in 1982 he directed The French, a documentary on the French Open tennis championship at Roland-Garros.

His work has sometimes been openly critical of American society and foreign policy; the film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum once wrote that Mr. Freedom was "conceivably the most anti-American movie ever made."[8]


Documentary films

Feature films


  • New York (1956)
  • Life is good and good for you in New York: Trance Witness Revels.
    • Life is good and good for you in New York: Trance Witness Revels. Éditions du Seuil, 1958.
    • New York 1954–55. Marval, 1995. New edition.
    • Life is Good & Good for You in New York Trance Witness Revels. Books on Books 5. New York: Errata Editions, 2010. ISBN 978-1-935004-08-0. Essays by Klein, Max Kozloff and Jeffrey Ladd.
    • Life is Good & Good for You in New York Trance Witness Revels. Books on Books 5. New York: Errata Editions, 2012.
  • Rome. Petite Planète, 1958. ISBN 9782812312151.
  • Moscow (1964)
  • Tokyo. Crown, 1964. First edition.
  • Mister Freedom. Korinsha Press, 1970. First edition.
  • Close up. Thames & Hudson, 1989.
  • Torino '90. Federico Motta Editore, 1990.
  • Mode in & out. Seuil, 1994. ISBN 9782020216852.
  • William Klein Films. Paris: Marval/Maison Europeenne De La Photographie, 1998. First edition. ISBN 9782862342634.
  • Paris + Klein. Germany: Edition Braus, 2002. ISBN 9783899040197.
  • MMV Romani. Fendi-Contrasto, Centre Pompidou. ISBN 9788889032817.
  • William Klein, rétrospective. Marval, 2005.
  • Roma + Klein. du Chêne, 2009.
  • William Klein: Black and Light, Early Abstracts, 1952 – 2015. HackelBury Fine Art, 2015. ISBN 978-0957026322.




Klein's work is held in the following public collection:


  1. "William Klein". Photography of the 20th Century. Masters of Photography. Retrieved 2010-01-06.
  2. "Text by John Heilpern". William Klein: Photographs. Masters of Photography. Retrieved 2010-01-06.
  3. "Professional Photographer Magazine". Top 100 Most influential photographers Century. Professional Photographer Magazine. Retrieved 2012-01-28.
  4. O'Hagan, Sean (29 April 2012). "William Klein – in pictures". The Guardian. Retrieved 25 June 2015.
  5. "William Klein Biography". designboom. Archived from the original on 2009-10-05. Retrieved 2010-01-06.
  6. Knorr, Katherine (1996-10-26). "William Klein's Street Life". The New York Times. Retrieved 2011-01-14.
  7. "Klein, William". Photography Encyclopedia. Masters of Photography. Retrieved 2010-01-06.
  8. "Mr. Freedom". Chicago Reader. Chicago Reader. Retrieved 2010-01-06.
  9. "William Klein". International Center of Photography.
  10. "The Cultural Award of the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Photographie (DGPh)". Deutsche Gesellschaft für Photographie e.V.. Accessed 7 March 2017.
  11. "Gallery Fifty One". Art Net.
  12. "Previous Award Winners". Hasselblad Foundation. Retrieved 18 August 2016.
  13. Royal Photographic Society's Centenary Award Accessed 13 August 2012
  14. "William Klein to receive Outstanding Contribution to Photography Award". Archived from the original on 2012-10-29.
  15. "Without Compromise: The Cinema of William Klein". Museum of Arts and Design. Retrieved 5 August 2015.
  16. Bortolot, Lana. "Embraced Once More By the City He Fled". Wall Street Journal. Dow Jones & Company, Inc. Retrieved 5 August 2015.
  17. "William Klein". C/O Berlin. 8 March 2017. Retrieved 25 April 2017.
  18. "Search – Rijksmuseum". Rijksmuseum.
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