William Klein
Klein in 2008
Born(1926-04-19)April 19, 1926
New York City, U.S.
DiedSeptember 10, 2022(2022-09-10) (aged 96)
Paris, France
NationalityAmerican, French
EducationCity College of New York, La Sorbonne, studied with Fernand Léger
Known forPhotography, cinema, painting
AwardsPrix Nadar

Prix Jean Vigo
Hasselblad Award
Royal Photographic Society's Centenary Medal and Honorary Fellowship

Outstanding Contribution to Photography Award, Sony World Photography Awards

William Klein (April 19, 1926 – September 10, 2022)[1] was an American-born French photographer and filmmaker noted for his ironic approach[2][3] to both media and his extensive use of unusual photographic techniques in the context of photojournalism and fashion photography.[2] He was ranked 25th on Professional Photographer's list of 100 most influential photographers.[4]

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 directed feature-length fiction films, numerous short and feature-length documentaries and produced over 250 television commercials.

He was 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[5] in 2011.

A retrospective exhibition of his work, William Klein: YES: Photographs, Paintings, Films, 1948–2013, was shown at the International Center of Photography in New York until September 15, 2022.[6]

Life and work

Klein was born in New York City into an impoverished Jewish family.[7] He graduated from high school early and enrolled at the City College of New York at the age of 14[7] to study sociology. He joined the U.S. Army during World War II and was stationed in Germany and later France, where he permanently settled 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.[7] 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",[2] its "uncompromising rejection of the then prevailing rules of photography"[2] and for his extensive use of wide-angle and telephoto lenses, natural lighting and motion blur.[2] 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."[8]

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 was 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.[9]

He directed numerous short and feature-length documentaries,[10] including the cinéma vérité documentary Grands soirs et petits matins, the 1964 documentary Cassius the Great, re-edited with new footage as Muhammad Ali: The Greatest in 1969. He produced over 250 television commercials.[10] A long time tennis fan, in 1982 he directed The French, a documentary on the French Open tennis championship.

His work was sometimes 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."[11]


Klein died in Paris on September 10, 2022, aged 96.[12][13][14]


Documentary films

Feature films





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


  1. ^ "William Klein, innovative street and fashion photographer, dies at 96". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2022-09-13.
  2. ^ a b c d e "William Klein". Photography of the 20th Century. Masters of Photography. Retrieved 2010-01-06.
  3. ^ "Text by John Heilpern". William Klein: Photographs. Masters of Photography. Retrieved 2010-01-06.
  4. ^ "Professional Photographer Magazine". Top 100 Most influential photographers Century. Professional Photographer Magazine. Retrieved 2012-01-28.
  5. ^ O'Hagan, Sean (29 April 2012). "William Klein – in pictures". The Guardian. Retrieved 25 June 2015.
  6. ^ a b Lubow, Arthur (2 June 2022). "Trying to Contain William Klein in One Show Isn't Easy". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2022-09-13.
  7. ^ a b c "William Klein Biography". designboom. Archived from the original on 2009-10-05. Retrieved 2010-01-06.
  8. ^ Knorr, Katherine (1996-10-26). "William Klein's Street Life". The New York Times. Retrieved 2011-01-14.
  9. ^ Eclipse Series 9: The Delirious Fictions of William Klein - The Criterion Collection
  10. ^ a b "Klein, William". Photography Encyclopedia. Masters of Photography. Retrieved 2010-01-06.
  11. ^ "Mr. Freedom". Chicago Reader. 26 October 1985. Retrieved 2010-01-06.
  12. ^ Paris, Staff and agencies in (12 September 2022). "William Klein, who helped revolutionize photography, dies aged 96". The Guardian. Retrieved 2022-09-13.
  13. ^ McFadden, Robert D. (12 September 2022). "William Klein, Who Photographed the Energy of City Life, Dies at 96". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2022-09-13.
  14. ^ "Photographer William Klein, whose style strongly influenced fashion and street photography, dies aged 96". ABC News. 12 September 2022. Retrieved 2022-09-13.
  15. ^ See: Andrew Roth, ed., The Book of 101 Books: Seminal Photographic Books of the Twentieth Century, New York: PPP Editions in association with Roth Horowitz LLC, 2001
  16. ^ Table of contents in: The Book of 101 Books: Seminal Photographic Books of the Twentieth Century, worldcat.org. Retrieved 12 October 2020.
  17. ^ Michel and Michèle Auer, Collection M. + M. Auer - une histoire de la photographie, Hermance, Switzerland: Éditions M+M, 2003)
  18. ^ Andrew Roth, ed., The Open Book, Göteborg, Sweden: Hasselblad Center in association with Steidl Verlag, Göttingen, Germany, 2004)
  19. ^ Martin Parr and Gerry Badger, The Photobook: A History, Volume I, London and New York: Phaidon, 2004.
  20. ^ "William Klein". International Center of Photography. 8 April 2022.
  21. ^ Prix Jean Vigo - 1967 (France) - Unifrance
  22. ^ "The Cultural Award of the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Photographie (DGPh)". Deutsche Gesellschaft für Photographie e.V.. Accessed 7 March 2017.
  23. ^ "Gallery Fifty One". Art Net.
  24. ^ "Previous Award Winners". Hasselblad Foundation. Retrieved 18 August 2016.
  25. ^ Royal Photographic Society's Centenary Award Accessed 13 August 2012
  26. ^ "William Klein to receive Outstanding Contribution to Photography Award". Archived from the original on 2012-10-29.
  27. ^ "Without Compromise: The Cinema of William Klein". Museum of Arts and Design. Retrieved 5 August 2015.
  28. ^ Bortolot, Lana (28 March 2013). "Embraced Once More By the City He Fled". Wall Street Journal. Dow Jones & Company, Inc. Retrieved 5 August 2015.
  29. ^ "William Klein". C/O Berlin. 8 March 2017. Retrieved 25 April 2017.