William Klein/ William Klein

United States 1928


William Klein
William Klein
United States

An American photographer William Klein is considered one of the most important artists in the medium’s history, probably because of his unusual approach which was often called a crash course in what was not to be done in photography. Klein’s visual language uses a lot of accidental events, graininess, blur, and distortion. In addition to his career in photography, he is also a movie maker known to openly criticize the new American society as well as foreign policies. His movie called Mr. Freedom is considered one of the most anti-American movies ever made.

William Klein – Mirrors (Antonia),1962 – image via pleasurephotoroom.com

From Abstract Murals to Fashion Photography

Klein was raised in New York, in an impoverished Jewish family. After he graduated from high school, he decided to study sociology at City College of New York. However, after two years spent in the United States Army as a newspaper cartoonist, he decided to officially dedicate himself to painting. Klein attended the Sorbonne in Paris and studied painting with Fernand Léger. While living in Paris, he was working also as a painter, graphic designer, and filmmaker, which already showed his immense talent for the visual arts. Before earning fame as a photographer, Klein was creating abstract murals for French and Italian architects. He began photographing his murals in 1952 and at the time he got curious about photography and movies. He visited New York in 1954 and began to take photos of the city and its expanding urban chaos. Klein was sailing against the wind since the very beginning – in the 50s, he worked in direct opposition to the images of Henri Cartier-Bresson, who was a role model for street photography. From 1955 to 1965, Klein started producing extremely innovative and bizarre fashion photography for Vogue and similar magazines. Alexander Liberman, who was his employer at Vogue, was impressed by his work. In the fashion photographs of the fifties, nothing like Klein had happened before. He went to extremes. He took fashion out of the studio and into the streets, Liberman claimed.

In 1955, Klein started producing extremely bizarre, new fashion photography for Vogue

William Klein - Veruschka with Cheetah,1967 - image via thepublicprofessor.com
William Klein – Veruschka with Cheetah,1967 – image via thepublicprofessor.com

Photo Books and Documentaries

Klein became famous because of his consistent use of wide-angle camera lenses, fast film, and innovative framing and printing processes. His images have a fragmented, chaotic mood and a certain rawness which emphasizes the photographer’s presence in the scene. Many of Klein’s images are strikingly expressive portraits taken in Rome, Moscow, New York and Tokyo and his influence upon other photographers of the same era was undeniably strong. His most famous photographic books are Gun (1955), The Holy family on Bike (1956), Cineposter (1961), Club Allegro Fortissimo (1990) and Autoportrait (1995). To expand his artistic projects, Klein became engaged in filmmaking in 1958. In 1965, he decided to almost completely abandon photography in order to concentrate on films.The world of fashion was the subject of his first feature film directed in 1966, under the name Who Are You, Polly Maggoo? His most famous works are Cassius the Great, dedicated to Muhammad Ali, and Loin du Vietnam, which is a collaboration with a couple of directors such as Alain Resnais and Jean-Luc Godard. Since the late 60s, Klein has produced over 20 films, many of them being satiric and ironic, making fun of the fashion industry as well as the American culture and life.

Gun from 1955 was one of Klein’s most famous photographic books

William Klein - Gun, 1955 - image via 1001events.com
William Klein – Gun, 1955 – image via 1001events.com

Voted One of the Most Influential Photographers

In 1963, an international jury at Photokina 1963 has chosen Klein as one of the 30 most important photographers. The artist became well-known in Europe upon publication of his powerful photo book called Life Is Good for You in New York , for which he won the Prix Nadar in 1956. Since then, Klein has exhibited all over the world – at Fuji Gallery in Tokyo, Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, Photokina in Cologne and The International Center of Photography and the Witkin Gallery in New York City. He was also featured in the Aperture monograph in 1981, which is an enormous success for any photographer. Even though he worked in the realm of movies for a very long time, Klein returned to part-time photography in 1978.

Photokina in Cologne has chosen Klein as one of the 30 most important artists

William Klein - Bikini,1959 - image via londonartreviews.com
William Klein – Bikini,1959 – image via londonartreviews.com

Breaking the Accepted Rules of Street Photography

Even though his work is very different from the traditional street photography of the 50s and 60s, Klein is considered one of the fathers of this genre because his photographs were the most distanced from the common standards of formal quality. His dynamic compositions, innovative use of lenses and bizarre fashion photography left the deep trace in the history of this medium. The same goes for his movie projects, which are bold, satirical and strikingly intelligent.

William Klein lives and works in Paris, France.

Featured image: William Klein’s portrait – image via pinterest.com

YearExhibition TitleGallery/MuseumSolo/Group
2016William Klein: Paris + New York + RomaJackson Fine Art, AtlantaSolo
2016New York Photo ShowBe-Hold, New YorkGroup
2016Fashion Show: 60 Years of Fashion PhotographyAtlas Gallery, LondonGroup
2015Coming into Fashion: A Century of Photography at Conde NastNorton Museum of Art, West Palm Beach, FLGroup
2015Cityscape At The Del Ivam Photography CollectionIVAM - Institut Valencia d'Art Modern, ValenciaGroup
2014The Rush And Calm, Moments In The CityFotomuseum Den Haag, The HagueGroup
2014End of an Era: Artistic Practices and Techniques of Analogue PhotographyMuseum Folkwang Essen, EssenGroup
2014Artificial Light: Flash Photography in the Twentieth CenturyPhiladelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, PAGroup
2014NonageGallery Fifty One, AntwerpGroup
2014Paparazzi ! Photographes, stars et artistesCentre Pompidou-Metz, MetzGroup
2014Fotogiornalismo E Reportage (Reportage and Photo Journalism)Galleria Civica di Modena, ModenaGroup
2014Only The Good Ones: The Snapshot Aesthetic RevisitedGalerie Rudolfinum, PragueGroup
2013William Klein retrospective exhibitionFoam Fotografiemuseum, AmsterdamSolo
2013William Klein: Fashion + StreetHoward Greenberg Gallery, New York City, NYSolo
2013Color! American Photography TransformedAmon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, TXGroup
2013The Mediterranean Experience: The Mediterranean as a spatial paradigm for the circulation of ideas and meaningMMCA Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Art, ThessalonikiGroup
2013More Than A LikenessMcClain Gallery, Houston, TXGroup
2013In God We TrustZacheta, National Gallery of Art, WarsawGroup
2013Vanity. Fashion Photography from the F.C. Gundlach CollectionNational Museum in Cracow, Muzeum Narodowe w Krakowie, KrakowGroup
2013Collection of DesireGalerie Le Réverbère, LyonGroup
2012William Klein: Paintings EtcHackelBury Fine Art Limited, LondonSolo
2012William Klein - Rome + KleinMaison de la Photographie, LilleSolo
2012William Klein - In & Out Of FashionEspace Soardi, NiceSolo
2012Fashion ClicksPhotographica Fine Art, LuganoGroup
2012A Selection Of Vintage And Contemporary PhotographsArteF Fine Art Photography Gallery, ZurichGroup
2012New York: Stieglitz to TitarenkoNailya Alexander Gallery, New York City, NYGroup
2012Gaze - The Changing Face of Portrait PhotographyIstanbul Modern, IstanbulGroup
2012Ten Years in FocusGalerie Stephen Hoffman, MunichGroup
2012American PhotographyFlo Peters Gallery , HamburgGroup
2012Beyond Words: Photography in The New YorkerUCCA - Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, BeijingGroup
2012GunCharles A. Hartman Fine Art, Portland, COGroup
2012Man and his objects (Der Mensch und seine Objekte)Museum Folkwang Essen, EssenGroup
2011Klein + 10 collectionneursGalerie Le Réverbère, LyonSolo
2011Beyond StyleGallery Fifty One, AntwerpGroup
2011Salon StyleAtlas Gallery, LondonGroup
2011VanityKunsthalle Wien (Museumsquartier), ViennaGroup
2011Dangerously YoungMuseum Dr. Guislain, GhentGroup
2011Eyes On Paris - In Paris Photobook 1890 Until TodayDeichtorhallen Hamburg, HamburgGroup
2011Harper's Bazaar: A Decade of StyleICP - International Center of Photography, New York City, NYGroup
2011Fashion - The Story Of A LifetimeNoorderlicht Fotogalerie, GroningenGroup
2011No Title, No ThemeGallery Fifty One, AntwerpGroup
2011New Yorker Fiction Real PhotographySteven Kasher Gallery, New York City, NYGroup
2011Masters of American PhotographyEtherton Gallery, Tucson, AZGroup
2011The Industrial ModernMMoCA - The Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, Madison, WIGroup
2011Night Vision: Photography After DarkThe Howard Gilman Gallery, 2nd floor - The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, NYGroup
2011Of women´s modesty and angerVilla Empain - Boghossian Foundation, BrusselsGroup
2011Conversations: Photography from the Bank of AmericaMFA - Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Boston, MAGroup
2010Staff PicksHoward Greenberg Gallery, New York City, NYGroup
2010The Unseen Eye: Photography from the collection of W.M. HuntAppleton Museum of Art, Ocala, FLGroup
2010Polaroid IconsOpus Gallery, Newcastle upon TyneGroup
2010Action! (#8)Polka Galerie, ParisGroup
2010Street Seen: The Psychological Gesture in American Photography, 1940–1959Milwaukee Art Museum, Milwaukee, WIGroup
2009The Magic of PhotographyGilman Contemporary, Ketchum, IDGroup
2009Something for EveryoneHamiltons Gallery, LondonGroup
2009IconsGalerie Stephen Hoffman, MunichGroup
2009Picturing the Process: The Photograph as WitnessThe Museum of Photographic Arts, San Diego, CAGroup
2009Glitz & Grime: Photographs of Times SquareYancey Richardson Gallery, New York City, NYGroup
2009A Gallerist's Choice-Group ShowMichael Hoppen Gallery, LondonGroup
2009Reality RevistedModerna Museet, StockholmGroup
2009Fashion is BigHolden Luntz Gallery, Palm Beach, FLGroup
2009This Is Not a Fashion Photograph: Selections from the ICP CollectionICP - International Center of Photography, New York City, NYGroup
2008William Klein - FormaCentro Internazionale di Fotografia, MilanSolo
2008Painted ContactsGalerie Laurent Strouk, ParisSolo
2008William Klein - DressageMaison Européenne de la Photographie, ParisSolo
2008A seemingly innocuous site (Une place apparemment inoffensive)Maison d'Art Bernard Anthonioz, Nogent-sur MarneGroup
2008Women in plural (Mujeres en plural)Fundacion Canal, MadridGroup
2008Street & Studio: An Urban History of PhotographyMuseum Folkwang Essen, EssenGroup
2008One Way, One TicketIVAM - Institut Valencià d'Art Modern, ValenciaGroup
2008Modern Photographs—The Machine, the Body and the CityParrish Art Museum, Southampton, NYGroup
2008Photography NowHackelBury Fine Art Limited, LondonGroup
2008Street Art, Street LifeBronx Museum of the Arts (BxMA), New York City, NYGroup
2008Fashion in the Mirror: Self-Reflection in Fashion PhotographyThe Photographers Gallery, LondonGroup
2008Fashion PhotographyArteF Fine Art Photography Gallery, ZurichGroup
2008Times SquareHoward Greenberg Gallery, New York City, NYGroup
2008Killer Looks: Iconic Fashion PhotographyContessa Gallery, Cleveland, OHGroup
2008Presumed Innocence: Photographic Perspectives of ChildrenDeCordova Sculpture Park and Museum, Lincoln, MAGroup
2008POST-WAR PERSPECTIVES 1945 -1960Laurence Miller Gallery, New York City, NYGroup
2007Life is art art is life, maybeGalerie Lumiere, SeoulSolo
2007William Klein - Films+Photos Books & PaintingMMCA Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Art, ThessalonikiSolo
2007The New York Scholl 1936-63Galerie Stephen Hoffman, MunichGroup
2007Photographic Formalities: From Ansel Adams to WeegeeSamuel P. Harn Museum of Art, Gainesville, FLGroup
200725 years A CelebrationHoward Greenberg Gallery, New York City, NYGroup
2007Out of the Crate: New AcquisitionsContessa Gallery, Cleveland, OHGroup
2007Italie - doubles visionMaison Européenne de la Photographie, ParisGroup
2007On the Street - The New York School of PhotographersPhoenix Art Museum, Phoenix, AZGroup
2007Mapping the City Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, AmsterdamGroup
2007FashionMichael Hoppen Gallery, LondonGroup
2007AccrochageGalerie Stephen Hoffman, MunichGroup
2006Colleziona - FormaCentro Internazionale di Fotografia, MilanGroup
2006The Streets of New York: American Photographs from the Collection, 1938–1958The National Gallery of Art, Washington, DCGroup
2006The street: Pioneers of 20th-century photographyVan Gogh Museum, AmsterdamGroup
2006The BeachZabriskie Gallery, New York City, NYGroup
2006Summer Vacation - Photographs from the CollectionPhiladelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, PAGroup
2006Black Panther Party for self-defenseLa B.A.N.K, ParisGroup
2006Black Panter Party for self defenceMU, EindhovenGroup
2006My CollectionMuseo Ken Damy, BresciaGroup
2006Passeur d´ImagesAliceday, BrusselsGroup
2005Invito al Collezionismo (Invitation to Collectibles)Galleria Carla Sozzani, MilanGroup
2005Storie di sguardi (Stories looks)Forma - Centro Internazionale di Fotografia, MilanGroup
2005Magic Moments II ExhibitionLeica Gallery Melbourne, Melbourne, VICGroup
2005On The Street - The New York School of PhotographersCenter for Creative Photography - University of Arizona, Tucson, AZGroup
2004Wer bietet mehr? (Who has more?)Fifteen years Deichtorhallen, Deichtorhallen Hamburg, HamburgGroup
2004Important Photographs from a Private Swiss CollectionLaurence Miller Gallery, New York City, NYGroup
2004Photography from the Book to the MuseumMNAC Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya, BarcelonaGroup
2004Italia. Doppie visioniScuderie del Quirinale, RomeGroup
2003Street Smarts: Photographs by William KleinPhiladelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, PASolo
2003Herb Ritts Private CollectionFahey, Klein Gallery, Los Angeles, CAGroup
2003Pelé - The King Through The Eye of The CameraElastic Residence, LondonGroup
2002New York: Capital of PhotographyMMoCA - The Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, Madison, WIGroup
2002Sans commune mesure (Incommensurate)Le Fresnoy, Studio national des arts contemporains, TourcoingGroup
2002Through the Looking GlassCatherine Edelman Gallery, Chicago, ILGroup
2001Masquerades - The Fralin Museum of ArtUniversity of Virginia Art Museums, Charlottesville, VAGroup
2001Presence and LossHenry Art Gallery, Seattle, WAGroup
2001Ciudad abierta: Fotografía urbana 1950-2000Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao, BilbaoGroup
2001Process Reprocess - Japan and the WestLeslie Tonkonow Artworks + Projects, New York City, NYGroup