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William Klein

Text from Photography of the 20th Century

Klein, William
American, 1928-

With his shots of the fifties and sixties, William Klein created an uncompromising rejection of the then prevailing rules of photography. His artistic career began in 1948 in Paris, where he trained as a painter. He discovered his passion for photography in the early fifties. Initially Klein utilized it as an abstract tool of expression, but he soon became fascinated with its possibilities for dealing with the real world. In 1954 Alexander Liberman, then art director at Vogue, hired the young photographer for his fashion magazine. This launched Klein's career as a fashion photographer, a journey marked by his ambivalent and ironic approach to the world of fashion. He did not want to continue with mundane fashion poses, but wanted to take "at last real pictures, eliminating taboos and cliches". Klein worked with unconventional wide-angle and telephoto pictures, with unconventional lighting and flash effects and with intentional motion blurs. Although he worked for Vogue until 1966, he did not consider fashion photography to be his real calling but rather what he calls "serious photographs". By that he meant uncompromising, unadorned documentaries about large cities like New York, Rome, Moscow, and Tokyo. Books about these cities enabled him to enjoy great successes. Around 1961 Klein gave up still photography with the exception of a few jobs for newspapers and advertising - in favor of motion pictures. His politically committed and unconventionally produced motion-picture contributions put him in the position of a maverick. Only at the beginning of the eighties did Klein start to take pictures again. At this time his earlier shots were rediscovered and given recognition.


 


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