• Mark Cator

William Klein


“I came from the outside, the rules of photography didn't interest me. There were things you could do with a camera that you couldn't do with any other medium—grain, contrast, blur, cock-eyed framing, eliminating or exaggerating grey tones and so on,” William Klein [born in 1928]

Born in New York, studied in New York, joined the army and was sent to France, briefly studying painting under Fernand Leger. He met Alexander Liberman, the art director of Vogue, at his first solo show in Milan in the early '50's. Despite Klein's total lack of experience in the area, Liberman offered him a job as a fashion photographer for the magazine.

Over an intense eight-month period, Klein created his photographic diary of New York but Vogue was shocked by what they regarded as a crude and vulgar view of the city. His frenetic visualisation didn’t fit with the prominent view of New York as a cosmopolitan cultural centre. Klein presented his images to local editors: “They thought the photographs were anti-American, and shitty in general. I thought I’d have more luck in France, and I did.” He quipped that "this city of headlines and gossip sensation ... needed a kick in the balls. Klein described the work behind his book as, "pseudo-ethnographic, parodic, Dada." He showed his work to Chris Marker, then working at Editions du Seuil in Paris, who championed the project. In 1956 his work was published as, Life is Good And Good For You in New York: Trance Witness Revels.

The work propelled him in to the limelight, going on to publish similar books on Rome and Moscow and a successful career in fashion and film making. In his essay on Klein's New York, Max Kozloff spoke of Klein's, "voyeuristic chutzpah... a modernist slumming with jazzy abandon... Klein, for his part, was an uncontainable aesthetic guerilla... everything within his frame grabs your attention."

"When I look back half of everything I've done is chance." William Klein

William Klein, 1955, Dwarf and Liquors, New York

William Klein, 1955, Dance in Brooklyn, New York.

William Klein, 1956, Barbershop, Rome

William Klein, 1990, Club Allegro Fortissimo, Paris.