Klein was born in 1928 in New York. His approach to photography was revolutionary and changed the way the photographic document was perceived. He describes his work as “in search of the straightest of straight documents, the rawest snapshot, the zero degree of photography”. Originally a painter he won his first camera in a card game. This casual approach to the medium was define his style as a photographer.
He was part of a Jewish immigrant family. His father lost his business in the 1928 crash. As a Jewish boy growing up in an Irish neighbourhood he experienced anti-semitism first hand and always felt alienated from mass culture. At the age of 14 he enrolled in college to study sociology. He then enrolled in the US army at 18 at was stationed in Germany and France as a radio operator. After the was he enrolled in the Sorbonne in Paris, here he studied painting under Fernard Leger. As a teacher Leger encouraged his students to revolt and reject conformity. Notably he said they should go out and work in the streets. When Klein returned to New York in 1954 he feel in love with the city. All the sights and sounds that he had forgotten or never seen suddenly inspired him. He set himself the challenge of photographing New York in a new way. As an american who had living abroad for 6 years he felt “oddly foreign”, and wished to capture the essence of New York in a photographic Diary.
The Book 'New York – (Life Is Good And Good For You In New York) was a scandal. His photos were blurred and out of focus. Just as important as the content of the book is its layout. “Like a movie I thought the book should be”. Pictures are cropped, pasted together and extend to the very edge of the page. This approach to bookmaking has influenced every photographer since. Vogue who commissioned the project saw it as crude, aggressive and vulgar – not the image they were trying to promote. The art world saw it a photographically incompetent. Klein earned the reputation as the “anti photographers photographer” for his rebellious approach. Having been received badly in America he to the book to France in search of a publisher. When finally they managed to get the book published it went on to win the Nadar prize.
“A technique of no taboos: blur, grain, contrast cock eyed framing, accidents”