William Klein is best known for his innovative techniques and pioneering approach to fashion photography and photojournalism, exemplifying beauty and the grotesque all within wide-angle and telephoto shots. Taking the models out of the studio and onto the streets, his revolutionary techniques pioneered a new vision. His 1956 book, Life is Good and Good for you in New York: Trance Witness Revels is acclaimed as one of the most important photo books of all time. Capturing the rough and tumble of daily life on the mean streets of New York and harnessing the explosive energy of the city through juxtapositions and bold captions, Klein’s brutally honest images and uncompromising vision caused a major a sensation.
Klein’s discovery of photography came by chance. After initial training at the Sorbonne as part of the post-war GI Bill, New York-born Klein spent a brief period in the Paris studio of Fernand Léger. He exhibited figurative paintings and abstract Mural Projects together in Milan in 1952. He became interested in photography when documenting a series of turning panels that he was commissioned to paint by the architect Mangiarotti: captured as they were revolving, a new energy and dynamism was introduced into the geometric abstractions. The process of photography enabled an exploration of scale, form and movement that informed all that followed. These photographs, seen by Alexander Liberman from American Vogue, led to a contract to join Vogue for special projects and later for experimental fashion photos.
William Klein is also an accomplished and highly respected filmmaker, beginning his foray into the moving image in 1958 with the first ‘Pop’ film Broadway by Light. Omnipresent in each of Klein’s films is the same uncompromising vision that characterises his still images. After abandoning photography for film in the mid 1960s, Klein returned to still photography in the 1980s, ever progressive and unrelenting in his approach. In 1963 at Photokina, Cologne, Klein was named one of the 30 most important photographers of the century. In 1989 he was made a Commander of Arts and Letters in France. Subsequently in 1990 he won the prestigious Hasselblad Award and in 1999 he was awarded the Medal of the Century by the Royal Photographic Society in London. In 2007 he received the International Center of Photography Infinity Award for Lifetime Achievement, and more recently in April 2012, he was awarded the Outstanding Contribution to Photography Award at the Sony World Photography Awards.
At the age of 89 Klein continues to live and work in Paris, France.