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Last Look: The Photographs of Irwin Klein (1933 -1974)

March 20 - May 31, 2009

                                                                                                        Minnesota Fire, 1962                              


March 20, 2009 -- Thirty-five years have passed since Irwin Klein died in a Brooklyn hospital following a tragic fall from his apartment window on March 20, 1974. On that day, and for several weeks prior to his death, Irwin had been in deep despair; obsessing over the state of the country including the ongoing war in Vietnam and the Watergate scandal. Always politically and socially active, Irwin was quoted by friends as saying that while the problems of the country seemed insurmountable, the beauty of life lies just outside our window. 

Irwin Klein’s work spanned only a very short period of time, between 1962 and 1974.  In that truncated period, however, he photographed numerous photo essays and subjects ranging from harsh, lonely Minnesota winters; to the “new settlers” of New Mexico in the mid-1960s; to the vibrant but decaying New York City of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, generating much public acclaim. 

Following Klein’s death, all of his negatives, cameras and equipment, as well as most of his printed work, were either lost or stolen.  All that remains today are the vintage prints in the present show and the few pieces acquired by major museums.  For Klein, this exhibit represents the “last look” the public will have of his remaining images as a collection.


Klein was born in 1933 in Brooklyn, New York.  He earned a B.A. and M.A. in English from Queens College and the University of Chicago, respectively, and pursued a Ph.D., also in English, from the University of Minnesota.  Almost immediately upon ceasing his studies in 1960, Irwin decided to become a photographer.  The rich expressions of life and its social context found in his work captured the attention of the art photography world, and his images quickly began to appear in a number of prominent publications, including Modern Photography; Aperture; Popular Photography; and American Photography, a publication of the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA).

In addition to print, Klein’s work also appeared in numerous important exhibitions, including the Eastman House exhibit “An International Survey of Contemporary Photographers by Nathan Lyon” in 1969, and posthumously in John Szarkowski’s 1978 MOMA show entitled, “Mirrors and Windows: American Photography Since 1960.”  In a review of the show, Time Magazine particularly noted the “exquisitely formal-looking image of a fire in Minneapolis by Irwin B. Klein.”

Minnesota Fire is the signature piece of “Last Look.” The image is in the permanent collections of MOMA and the Eastman House, and was included in Time-Life Photography Year 1979.   Minnesota Fire, along with other enduring photographs presented in this show, is a testament to a great talent whose life was cut all too short.  

Last Look: The Photographs of Irwin Klein (1933 -1974)  Published Book

WINC Public Radio  Alan Klein: On his brother, the photographer Irwin Klein