Photo Corners

A   S C R A P B O O K   O F   S O L U T I O N S   F O R   T H E   P H O T O G R A P H E R

Enhancing the enjoyment of taking pictures with news that matters, features that entertain and images that delight. Published frequently.

Remembering William Klein Share This on LinkedIn   Tweet This   Forward This

12 September 2022

William Klein has died peacefully in Paris at the age of 96.

His fashion photography took the models out of the studio and into the streets. His street photography didn't shy away from the violence of urban life.

His death on Saturday coincided with the last day today* of a retrospective at the International Center of Photography that celebrated his over six decade career as a photographer, bookmaker, abstract artist, documentary filmmaker and portraitist.

He was born in 1926 to ultra-Orthodox Jews living in upper Manhattan. His father's clothing business was a casualty of the Depression while the young Klein graduated from high school at the age 14.

As a teen, he explored the city's art museums, including the Museum of Modern Art, and fantasized about going to Europe while studying at City College. The U.S. Army conspired to make that happen, stationing him in Germany and France during World War II where he drew cartoons for Stars and Strips, the military newspaper.

He stayed in France after completing his service.

He was studying painting at the Sorbonne on the G.I. bill under Fernand Léger when he won a camera in a poker game in 1948 and changed disciplines. Eventually he would buy a Leica from Cartier-Bresson.

It was Léger who advised Klein to leave the galleries behind and get into the street to experience life first hand.

Beginning with the disruptive Life is Good and Good for You (1956), he published a series of photo books into the 1960s before making a film in 1965, the first of 27 short and feature length documentaries that included Muhammad Ali, The Greatest (1969).

In 2003, he reflected on his two-part documentary on Ali:

So-called battles between good and evil have always obsessed me. Here was Cassius Clay, a clean-cut American. But he became the bad guy because he was Black and had a big mouth. No one took him seriously. When I did Part I of the film, everybody hated it. Everybody hated him until Zaire.

Of his fashion photographs, many made on contract with Vogue from 1955 to 1965, he said:

My photographs are mostly parodies. The intention was to show how phony the poses were. But nobody complained. I always made sure that you could see the dress.

His work is in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York; the Centre Pompidou in Paris; and the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles. He was appointed a Commander of Arts and Letters by the French government in 1989.

He met Jeanna Florin, his wife of over 50 years, in France when they were both 18. It was his second day in the city. They had a son Pierre, who survives him and Jeanna, who died in 2005. "Our relationship was the love affair of the century. We met when we were 18 and we were together for more than 50 years. That's Paris," he said.

BackBack to Photo Corners