Opus Art, Newcastle upon Tyne, United Kingdom

Somersault by William Klein

William Klein Biography

New York, 1928

Photographer William Klein's wide-ranging career has encompassed groundbreaking 'snapshot aesthetic' photographs of New York, some of the most iconic fashion photography, and proto-Pop films.

Klein grew up in New York. He spent two years in the US Army, stationed in Germany and France, and after his discharge he settled in Paris to become a painter. Working briefly with Fernand Leger, Klein went on to exhibit in Italy, where he painted a series of abstract murals for Italian architects.

As an artist using photography, as one says today, he set out to re-invent the photographic document. In 1954, he applied these experiments to his native New York: familiar, yet - after living for 6 years in Paris - oddly foreign. The result was Life is Good and Good for you in New York: Trance Witness Revels. His book of 1956 (re-issued 1995), a gritty street level view of New York and its denizens, unlike anything American photography has seen before. The book was published in Europe (no American publisher would touch it) and thus little known in the US at the time - except, paradoxically, by almost every photographer.

Frank's book of 1958, The Americans, with its sedate, black and white view of American desolation sprang from a poetic, elegiac, essentially European sensibility. Klein's unflinching in-your-face images which had been published two years before, presaged it while relying on a much harder aesthetic. Using fast film, high contrast, grain blur, a wide angle lens and heretical framing, he compounded accidents and abstraction. He designed the book himself, half Dada, half nightmare, often uncomfortable, always new.

As Klein describes it, 'I was a make believe ethnographer: treating New Yorkers much as a museum expedition would treat Zulus - in search of the straightest of straight documents, the rawest snapshot, the zero degree of photography.'

Along with his street-level assaults, Life is Good and Good for You in New York contained captions with a Beat poet stream of consciousness narrative. To describe a shot of a Manhattan office building, he wrote 'Skyscraper on the island. Hockshop mess of landscape, so typical, l love it. Great and generous, nothing sacred, nothing spared, anything goes . . . Here you realize that not only is New York America but it is All America . . . the first Frontier Town, the original, the Eternal Boom Town, wilder than the Wildest West, more Texan than Texas.'

Photo books on Rome, Moscow and Tokyo followed, each with a different approach, pushing to the limit what photography could reveal.

If Klein's nature was Dada, his fascination with typography, urban junk and the absurd presaged Pop. If he had a creative counterpart it would be Man Ray. And like Man Ray, Klein photographed fashion, where with countless innovations, he revolutionzed the medium. His influence is evident even today.

From 1955 to 1965 Klein worked for Vogue, thereby financing his other projects - books and films. From 1965 to the early 80s, he abandoned photography to concentrate on directing movies - as ground-breaking as his photographs. They include Broadway By Light (possibly the first Pop Film), the classic offbeat features Who are you Polly Maggoo? and Mr. Freedom, the corrosive documentaries Muhammad Ali the Greatest and The Little Richard Story up to his 1999 masterwork The Messiah: an oratorio for the end of the century.


Grand Manege, Moscow, 1999.

Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh, Scotland, 1999.

Fnac, Paris, 1999.

Jane Jackson Gallery, Atlanta, USA, 1999.

Pushkin Museum, Moscow, 1997.

Saint-Gervais Center, Geneva, Switzerland, 1997.

National Foundation, Madrid, Spain, 1997.

Deichtor Hallen, Hamburg, Germany, 1997.

Howard Green Gallery and 292, New York, 1996.

Caixa Foundation, Barcelona, Spain, 1996.

Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, USA, 1996.

Maison Europeene De La Photographie, Paris, 1996.

Museum Of Modern Art, San Francisco, 1995.

Fnac, Paris, Marseille And Travelling, 1995.

Zabriskie, Paris, 1994.

Hamiltons, London, 1994.

International Center of Photography (Icp) New York, 1994.

Presidential Palace, Prague, Czechoslovakia, 1994.

Printemps De La Photo, Cahors, 1993.

Morsbroich Museum, Leverkasen, 1993.

Beaux Arts, Almeria, Spain, 1992.

Howard Greenberg, New York, 1992.

Stadts Museum, Munich, Germany, 1992.

Hamiltons, London, 1991.

Exposure Gallery, Parco, Tokyo, 1991.

Hasselslad Center, Goteborg, Sweden, 1990.

National Library, Turin, Italy, 1990.

Volkwang Museum, Essen, Germany, 1990.

Zabriskie, New York, 1990.

Finnish Film Archives, Helsinki, Finland, 1989.

Photographers' Gallery, London, 1989.

Museum Of Moving Images, London, 1989.

Musee d'Elysee, Lausanne, France, 1988.

Osaka Museum, Osaka, Japan, 1988.

Ludwig Museum, Cologne, Germany, 1988.

Museum Of Photographic Arts, San Diego, California, USA, 1987.

Printemps Ginza, Tokyo, Japan, 1987.

Museum Of Modern Art, Paris, 1987.

Victoria And Albert Museum, London, 1986.

Fotofest, Houston, Texas, USA, 1986.

Corloran Gallery, Washington, USA, 1985.

3 Castles In Drome, France, 1985.

Municipal Galleries, Zagreb And Belgrade, Yugoslavia, 1984.

Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, 1983.

Municipal Gallery, Albi, France, 1982.

International Festival, Malmo, 1982.

Light Gallery, New York, 1981.

Zabriskie, Paris, 1981.

American Centre, Paris, 1981.

Moma, New York, 1980.

National Foundation of Photography, Lyon, France, 1979.


Willaim Klein, Agfa-Erfurth Press, Braus Edition, Heidelberg, 1993.

Torino 90, photographs and design by William Klein. Text by Guy Mandery, Frederico Motta, Milan, Italy, 1990.

Close Up, text, photographs and design by William Klein, Braus Edition, Heidelberg; Thames & Hudson, London, Paris, New York, 1989.

The Films of William Klein, text by Bruce Jenkins and Johnathan Rosenbaum, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, 1988.

William Klein, Pacific Press service, Tokyo, 1987.

William Klein; 'photo-poche', text by Christian Caujole, Centre National de la Photographie, Paris, 1985.

William Klein, text by Carole Nagger, photographs and design by William Klein, Centres Georges Pompidou, Editions Herscher, Paris, 1983.

William Klein, text by Alain Jouffroy, Editions Fabbri, 'I Grandi Fotogrfi', and Editions Filipacchi, Paris, 1982.

William Klein: Photographs, etc., text by John Heilpern, Aperture, New York, 1981.

New York 54-55, portfolio, text by Alain Jouffroy, Paris, JM Bustamante, and Bernard saint-Genes, 1978.

Mister Freedom, screenplay, photographs by Jurgen Vollmar, Jeanne and William Klein. Editions Eric Losfeld, Paris, 1970.

Moscow, text, photographs and layout by William Kein, Zokeisha Publications, Tokyo; Silvana, Milan; Editions Delpire, Paris; Crown, New York, 1964.

Tokyo, text, photographs and layout by William Klein, Zokeisha Publications, Tokyo; Silvana, Milan; Die Zeit, Hamburg; Editions Delpire, Paris; Crown, New York, 1964.

Rome, text, photographs and layout by William Klein, Editions du Seuil, Paris; Feltrinelli, Milan, 1958-1959.

New York, text, photographs and layout by William Klein, Editions du Seuil, Paris; Feltrinelli, Milan; Vista Books, London, 1956.


Le Messie (The Messiah), 2000.

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