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Legendary Street Photographer William Klein Dies in Paris

Photographer William Klein has died, aged 96.
Photographer William Klein has died, aged 96. (Getty Images)

Legendary street and fashion photographer William Klein has died in Paris, aged 96, his son said in a statement to French news agency AFP on Monday.

Klein, a New York-born American who made his reputation shooting scenes of urban life in the world’s biggest cities, studied painting with Fernand Leger but found fame as a photographer.

“Klein is one of those legendary photographers who made his own rules, like Man Ray,” said Alain Genestar, head of French photography magazine Polka.

Klein, who won global recognition with his fashion photos for Vogue, was also a painter, graphic designer and documentary filmmaker with an ironic and sometimes acerbic look at his subjects, who always looked directly into his lens.

“People always look at the camera in his pictures, because he believed that people’s eyes do not lie,” Genestar said.

Klein lived most of his adult life in Paris, where his quirky photographs were adored by the 1960s avant-garde art world on the Left Bank.

He married a French woman and lived for decades in the same apartment by the Jardin du Luxembourg, but in a 2014 interview with The Guardian he said he never felt French.

“I’m at home with the French. Hanging out with Americans, for me, that sucks,” he was quoted as saying.

“As a kid, I wanted to be part of the Lost Generation who came to France. Hang out at the Coupole with Picasso and Giacometti,” he told the paper.

The New York International Center of Photography (ICP), where an retrospective on his work ended on Monday, said Klein’s output had been prodigious, “from his wildly inventive photographic studies of New York, Rome, Moscow and Tokyo to bold and witty fashion photographs”.

He also made celebrity portraits, documentary films about Muhammad Ali and Little Richard as well as fiction films about the beauty industry, imperialism and consumer culture, ICP said.

“Few have transformed as many fields of art and culture as William Klein,” the exhibition’s curator David Campany wrote on ICP’s announcement of the exhibition.

By Geert De Clercq

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State of Fashion 2023
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State of Fashion 2023