William Klein (born April 19, 1928) is a photographer and filmmaker noted to for his ironic approach to both media and his extensive use of unusual photographic techniques in the context of photojournalism and fashion photography.
Trained as a painter, Mr. Klein studied under Fernand Léger and found early success with exhibitions of
his work. However, he soon 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 training as a photographer, Mr. Klein won the Prix Nadar in 1957 for New York, a book of photographs taken during a brief return to his hometown in 1954. Mr. Klein’s work was considered revolutionary for its “ambivalent and ironic approach to the world of fashion”, its “uncompromising rejection of the then prevailing rules of photography” and for his extensive use of wide-angle and telephoto lenses, natural lighting and motion blur. The world of fashion would become the subject for Mr. Klein’s first feature film, Who Are You, Polly Maggoo?, which, like his other two fiction features, Mr. Freedom and Le Couple Témoin, is a satire.
Mr. Klein has directed numerous short and feature-length documentaries and has produced over 250 television commercials.
Though American by birth, Klein has lived and worked in France since his late teens. His work has sometimes been openly critical of American society and foreign policy; the film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum once wrote that Klein’s 1968 satire Mr. Freedom was “conceivably the most anti-American movie ever made.”
Mr. Klein was born in New York, New York, on April 19, 1928, into a poor Jewish family. Klein graduated from high school early and enrolled at the City College of New York at the age of 14 to study sociology. Mr. Klein joined the US Army and was stationed in Germany and later France, where he would permanently settle after being discharged. In 1948, Mr. Klein enrolled at the Sorbonne, and later studied with Fernand Léger. At the time, Mr. Klein was interested in abstract painting and sculpture. In 1952, Mr. Klein had two successful solo exhibitions in Milan and began a collaboration with the architect Angelo Mangiarotti. Mr. 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.
In 1966, Mr. Klein directed his first feature film, Who Are You, Polly Maggoo? He has since directed many others, including the cinéma vérité documentary Grands soirs et petits matins, the 1969 documentary Muhammad Ali: The Greatest, and the satires Mr. Freedom and Le Couple Témoin. A long time tennis fan, in 1982, he directed The French, a documentary on the French Open tennis championship at Roland-Garros.