Now almost 90 and still working, William Klein is one of the giants of 20th-century photography. His work includes gritty street shots such as the collection Life is Good & Good for You in New York, groundbreaking fashion images for US Vogue, documentary and fiction films such as Muhammad Ali, The Greatest and Who Are You, Polly Maggoo?, as well as abstract painting and photography. In all cases, Klein’s graphic punch and sassy wit are instantly recognisable. At Photo London at Somerset House, 18-21 May, he will present two new 9m photographic murals. Wallpaper* talked to the artist in his Paris apartment about these works and his 70 years of pioneering image-making
Where did it all begin?
I was born in Harlem, New York, in 1928. I loved art and hung out at the Museum of Modern Art. It showed painting and sculpture, but also photography, graphic design and movies. It was like a second home to me. I wanted to get to Europe, to be a painter. I was in Paris by 1947, studying in the studio of Fernand Léger. He thought young artists should look beyond the gallery – to architecture, the street, new media. I went pretty quickly from figurative painting to abstract murals. Then a Milanese architect asked me to turn a mural into a room divider made of rotating panels. With my wife, Jeanne, I was photographing these panels and, in the camera’s long exposure, the rotations blurred, creating new forms. That was kind of interesting. So I went into my darkroom and made abstract photos, with light shining through shapes cut in pieces of card, moving them around to produce patterns on the paper.
That’s a quick hopscotch! This moving between media is reminiscent of the Bauhaus.
The Bauhaus approach really impressed me. Having no rules, experimenting – that was how I felt. I wanted the freedom to explore what was possible. I had a few shows of those abstracts and, in a 1954 exhibition in Paris, they were seen by Alex Liberman, the art director at US Vogue. He asked if I wanted to work for him. I was getting into 35mm photography, shooting on the streets, and I wanted to see New York again. When I got there, it was a mess. Dirty and chaotic. I went about showing it in grainy black and white. Vogue was paying for all my materials so I shot like crazy, all over the city. And at night I printed like crazy, going through boxes and boxes of paper. It soon turned into a book, but it was too harsh for an American audience, too negative for the 1950s. I published it in Europe.
That photobook, New York (1956), became incredibly influential. I hear you did everything on it.
Yeah, the photos, the layout, the captions written in a kind of Dada-tabloid jargon. It was really graphic, with over-inked blacks and a candy-coloured cover.
Continue reading your story on the app
Continue reading your story in the magazine
A Tribeca hair salon is offering an oasis of calm to its curly-haired clients
Set in an unassuming corner of east London, Remi Connolly-Taylor’s bijou first build is a perfect fit
Pierre Yovanovitch launches his long-awaited first furniture label
Metropolitan meanderings in minimalist monochrome
Yves Behar on the spurs and span of his design for good
Mario Tsai’s pared-back designs are the shape of things to come
Hermès hits hyperdrive with a one-off design for McLaren’s futuristic Speedtail
An exceptional Okavango safari lodge is a lush showcase for the best of African design
A new home in India is a machine for multigenerational living, offering spaces to both meet and retreat
Cultural hope springs eternal as Salon 94 opens the doors on its new Manhattan space
AMAZON WINS EU COURT FIGHT OVER $300 MILLION TAX RULING
In the latest setback to European Union efforts to tackle corporate tax avoidance, a court on Wednesday annulled a ruling by the European Commission that a tax deal between Amazon and Luxembourg’s government amounted to illegal state support.
It Has Defied All Predictions of Its Obsolescence
If You Believe the Headlines, the Office Has Been Dying for Half a Century
An Exclusive Interview With RÉMY BOND
It is a pleasure to interview one of the rising stars in today's contemporary art field, a surprising artist, full of vision, with incredibly unique and sophisticated artworks! Rémy Bond, born in 1983 in Paris, France, dreamed of becoming an astronaut.
UNDER THE WEATHER
THE FACTORS THAT CAUSE CLIMATE CHANGE ALSO MAKE US SICK.FIGHTING IT CAN SAVE MILLIONS OF LIVES
thumbs up! and down!
Best Of Show Or Worse For Wear? Digest Decides.
EU PROPOSES RULES FOR HIGH-RISK ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE USES
European Union officials unveiled proposals for reining in high-risk uses of artificial intelligence such as live facial scanning that could threaten people’s safety or rights.
Hands Off My Football Team!
The European Super League followed a model shaped in the U.S. Opposition from fans scuttled the idea
ALSO ROARING BACK FROM PANDEMIC: EARTH-WARMING EMISSIONS
Global warming emissions are expected to spike this year as the world emerges from the coronavirus pandemic and economies begin to recover.
STARVING FOR MORE CHIPS IN A TECH-HUNGRY WORLD
As the U.S. economy rebounds from its pandemic slump, a vital cog is in short supply: the computer chips that power a wide range of products that connect, transport and entertain us in a world increasingly dependent on technology.
Francesco Paoli lifts the lid on the symphonic death metal masters’ most vicious and vivacious cycle of songs thus far