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American photographer William Klein, an icon of road pictures, died on the age of 96

The American William Klein, who revolutionized street photography and fashion photography, as well as a film director, painter and graphic designer, died on Monday, September 12 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 Let go On April 16, 2002, he discovered Europe during his military service, where after the war he was part of the occupation troops in 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 visited the studio of Fernand Léger.

In 1953, William Klein was invited to create abstract paintings to decorate the corridors of the Piccolo Teatro in Milan. His paintings inspire him with abstract photographs, but he does not yet think that photography will become his profession. It wasn’t until 1954, when he returned to New York, that his life changed. Alexander Libermann, the art director of Vogue, adores his photos and hires him to do fashion photography.

“Fashion gave me extraordinary means: more flashes, sets, assistants… I was able to try new techniques that I then used for my personal work. Not interested. And designers even less”he said Telerama Sep 23, 2011 However, he revolutionized fashion photography by taking models to the street, mixing them with passers-by, playing off their silhouettes with the graphics of the city.

A 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 is engaged in a personal project of a photographic “diary” on the streets of New York. “I’ve always hated pictorialist photography, fog, drapery effects, shit. I was no longer convinced by the sentimental, humanistic, nostalgic and clean photography, which dominated the early 1990s. 1950s. I wanted to shake things up. I had to stay as far away from art photos”he said The world May 5, 2002

On the streets of New York, William Klein gets as close as possible to the people he shoots in a wide angle, distorting his subjects with the effects of movement. In print, it forces graininess, contrasts. His daring frames express all the energy of the turbulent, chaotic, moving city that he looks at again and again. This work is of no interest to Americans. The first edition was in Paris New York (Where 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, which was to become a monument in the history of photography, was then published in the United Kingdom, Italy and Japan. This earned him the Nadar Prize in 1957.

Exposure "New York" by William Klein at the museum in Palencia, Spain, on June 13, 2021. (JOAQUIN GOMEZ SASTRE / NURPHOTO)

William Klein will then work on the streets of Rome (1958), Moscow (1964), Tokyo (1964), but his work in New York is what marked 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 photo is near the brothel on the street, going in all directions. Only in the demo can I connect so many “faces”, multiply the combinations and organize this chaos”he said then.

William Klein has also directed numerous commercials, as well as twenty films, short, medium and feature films. in the first, Broadway By Light (1958), plays with colors with lights and signs in 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 show business. He also dedicated the film to Muhammad Ali, the great boxing champion and black activist, who refused to fight in Vietnam and whom he followed for ten years. Another black activist, Eldridge Cleaver (Eldridge cleaver black panther1969), or rock legend Little Richard (the story of little Richard, 1980).

Since the end of the 1980s, he has mixed painting and photography creating “painted contacts”: fragments of enlarged contact sheets that he decorated with strokes of bright colors, yellow, red, blue.

In 1989, he came up with the idea for the series contacts on Arte, short programs of thirteen minutes in which photographers are invited to talk about their work from their contact sheets, their prints or slides.

William Klein had numerous personal 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 Rencontres d’Arles (1978, 1982, 2016), at Tate Modern in London (2012)…

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