William Klein MMoCA Collects

American, 1928

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William Klein. © William Klein. Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, NYC.
William Klein, Hamburger 40 cents, New York, vintage gelatin silver print, 1955.

William Klein was born of Jewish immigrant parents in New York. Taking an early interest in modern art, he traveled to Paris on the G.I. Bill after World War II to study art at the Sorbonne. Influenced by School of Paris artists such as Fernand Léger, he pursued abstraction, often combined in innovative ways with sculpture and photography. After six years in Paris, he returned for a while to New York and was commissioned by Vogue magazine to photograph New York and to do fashion photography. The result of being asked to photograph the city resulted in the controversial book New York, New York (1956). He later returned to Paris and for many years made documentary films. He took up photography once again in the 1990s and elaborated upon those qualities that had made his postwar photographs of New York so innovative.

Klein's photographic work, which reveals his love of the "raw snapshot," takes a prominent place within the context of street photography. This new type of documentary photography that developed in New York and Chicago after World War II placed a premium upon spontaneity. Photographers were attracted to the visual conventions of amateur photography, to those aspects of blurred focus, deliberate graininess, odd angles, and uneven print quality that imbued scenes with great vitality and a sense of life caught on the wing.

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Suggested Readings

Klein, William. New York: 1954.55. Stockport, England: Dewi Lewis Publishing, 1996.

Klein, William. William Klein: Portfolio. New York: teNeues Publishing Company, 1999.

William Klein, Hamburger 40 cents, New York, 1955, vintage gelatin silver print, 10 1/2 x 15 3/4 inches. Collection of Madison Museum of Contemporary Art. Madison Art Center Purchase Fund. 2003.02 © William Klein. Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York City.

William Klein. © William Klein. Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, NYC.