American photographer William Klein died Saturday evening in Paris at the age of 96, his son, Pierre Klein, announced in a statement on Monday.

William Klein photographer

He discovered Europe during his military service

His name is one of the great names in 20th century photography: William Klein died “peacefully” on Saturday evening in Paris. He was 96 years old. His son, Pierre Klein, announced Monday in a press release. Born in 1926 in New York, it was during his military service that he discovered Europe, and settled there from 1946: demobilized in Paris, he began by devoting himself to painting, notably visiting Fernand Léger and his abstract paintings. It is moreover abstraction that leads him to the still image: he takes up photography to create random geometric patterns from sliding panels designed by an architect, Angelo Mangiarotti. His astonishing images will seduce Alexander Liberman, the legendary artistic director of Vogue magazine, who offers him a contract in New York in 1954. This is the beginning of the photographic adventure.

Audacity and unbridled creativity

In his fashion photographs, he demonstrates audacity and unbridled creativity. With mirrors and spotlights, he duplicates the characters, creates strange reflections or abstract shapes. In Rome, in charge of photographing striped dresses, Klein had the idea of ​​creating an echo with the features of pedestrian crossings. Armed with a telephoto lens, he asks the models to go back and forth on the spot and photographs them from afar. Passers-by, who do not see the photographer, believe that the women are prostitutes and solicit them, challenge them, pinch their buttocks… until the panicked Vogue team rings the end of the session. William Klein, revolutionized fashion photography and urban photography, with punchy images translating the feverishness and violence of cities, during a long career also devoted to cinema.

A long career also devoted to cinema

Photographer but also painter, documentary filmmaker and graphic designer, William Klein is considered one of the most influential artists of the 20th century. He passed away as a retrospective exhibition of his work at the International Center of Photography in New York came to an end. Inspired by the raw aesthetic of reportage and the sensationalist style of tabloids, William Klein has shaken up the codes of street photography, but also of fashion, by being one of the first to bring models out of the studios. Deframings, exacerbated contrast are at the rendezvous in his work, essentially in black and white, where young boys brandish weapons at point-blank range and where scowling faces are displayed in very close-up, sometimes blurred.

William Klein photographer

Serge Gainsbourg’s portrait

From the 80s, he abandoned the camera for the viewfinder, produced several books (“Close up”, 1989, “Torino ’90”, 1990 and “In & Out of Fashion”, 1994), and signed the cover of an album by Serge Gainsbourg, where the singer appears in drag, a cigarette in hand. “My motto”, recalled the photographer, “while doing the (book on) New York was: + Anything goes +. It always suits me. No rules, no prohibitions, no limits”. On the strength of these friendships which embody the “left bank” of French cinematographic modernity (the Nouvelle Vague is camped out on the other bank), the experience led him, a few years later, to swap the camera for the camera. Strange fictions are born of it. Who are you, Polly Maggoo? (1966) is a frenzied satire of the world of fashion and television that he knows inside out. A cloud of characters crystallized around an American model passing through Paris (Dorothy McGowan), coveted by a director who is doing a report on her (Jean Rochefort) and an operetta prince (Sami Frey). There are clear reminiscences of Federico Fellini – his idol – and Jean-Luc Godard. Installed since the post-war period in an apartment opposite the Luxembourg Gardens decorated with the paintings of his wife, the photographer his contemporary prints at the Parisian gallery Polka.

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