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William Klein to receive Outstanding Contribution to Photography Award

Press release   •   Mar 27, 2012 10:00 BST

William Klein, one of the 20th century’s most important and influential photographers and film-makers, will receive the Outstanding Contribution to Photography Award at the 2012 Sony World Photography Awards.

He will be honoured at the annual gala award ceremony on 26 April at taking place at London’s Park Lane Hilton Hotel, amongst leading figures of the international photography community. An intimate exhibition of his work, curated by Michael Benson, will be shown as part of the Sony World Photography Awards Exhibition at Somerset House in London from 27 April – 20 May.

After initially training as a painter under Fernard Léger in Paris in the 1950s, the New York born Klein exhibited in Milan, where a chance discovery when photographing murals he had painted on turning panels, led him to explore photography as a way of developing his abstract designs.

After being spotted and offered a job by Alexander Liberman from American Vogue, Klein returned to New York at the age of 25 where he worked as a fashion photographer and on a photo diary of New York. Unable to secure an American publishing deal, due to the grainy, contrasted and blurred nature of his photos, he returned to Paris where Life is Good and Good For You in New York, was published and went on to win the Prix Nadar in 1957. The same year he met the film director Fellini who invited him work on Nights of Cabiria in Rome. Filming was delayed allowing Klein the opportunity to explore Rome through the same raw, gritty photography as his book on New York. A book on Rome followed in 1960, then Moscow and Tokyo in 1964. As an artist using photography Klein’s use of high-grain film and wide angles shocked the traditional photography establishment, earning him a reputation as an anti-photographer’s photographer.

Marcus Bury from the HackelBury gallery, Klein’s gallerist in London comments:

‘A prodigious, giant of film, photography and graphic publications, William Klein is one of the true great forces of the 20th and 21st century. William’s work has blasted a trail of innovation and has had a major influence on the many artists who have followed in his wake. His is a career most worthy of celebration. Klein’s documentaries, his films of satire, political commentary and anarchy, his studies of cities and icons of fashion all continue to inspire artists, graphic designers, filmmakers and photographers to this day. Never one to steer clear of controversy or confrontation, William Klein is a true master of the creative arts.’

From 1955 to 1965 Klein continued to work for Vogue, preferring to photograph his models out in the street or on location. His time with the magazine inspired his first feature film Who are you Polly Maggoo? released in 1966. Like his other two feature films, Mr. Freedom and The Model Couple, it is a satire. For the next few years Klein concentrated on filmography directing numerous short and feature-length documentaries, returning to photography in the 1980s.

In 1990 he won the prestigious Hasselblad Award. In 1997 he re-photographed New York and had shows in Barcelona and Paris. In 1999 he was awarded the Medal of the Century by the Royal Photographic Society in London. His most recent solo exhibition was at Polka Galerie, Paris, 2009.

A larger collection of William Klein’s work will be exhibited 10 October 2012 – 27 January 2013 alongside the works of Daido Moriyama at the Tate Modern. Taking as its central theme the cities of New York and Tokyo, William Klein + Daido Moriyama will explore both artists’ celebrated depictions of modern urban life. William Klein + Daido Moriyama is co-curated by Simon Baker, Curator of Photography and International Art, Tate, and Juliet Bingham, Curator, Tate Modern, with Kasia Redzisz, Assistant Curator, Tate Modern.

Simon Baker comments: ‘Over a career spanning the past 60 years, William Klein has worked in painting, photography and film, always at the cutting edge of his chosen medium. His iconic photobooks of the 1950s and 60s: Rome, Tokyo and most famously Life is Good & Good for You in New York, Trance Witness Revels are rightly recognised as among the most important and influential in the history of photography. As his photographic practice shows, Klein has always been brilliant, exacting and uncompromising, with a unique and unmistakable critical vision of 20th century life. His Outstanding Contribution to Photography Award from the World Photography Organisation is recognition of a body of work of incredible diversity, depth and individuality.’

With a career spanning over half a decade, at the age of 83 Klein continues to work and live in France.

Last year the Outstanding Contribution to Photography Award was given to Bruce Davidson. The other recipients of the award, previously known as the Lifetime Achievement Award, are Eve Arnold, Marc Riboud and Phil Stern.