Model, photographer’s agent then photographer, your artistic career is already well established. How did you get into the art world?
I would say that both art and fashion sort of runs in the family! Without going too far back in the genealogy, my grandmother was a Prima Ballerina and later became an internationally acclaimed sculptor. As for my father, he studied applied arts and then launched his own business mainly in advertising illustration. When he met my mother, she introduced him to the fashion world, as she had distinguished herself as one of the first press officers on the Parisian catwalks. They went on to work together on numerous commercials where femininity was always at the fore.
What have been the milestones in your career?
I am going to say when I was six – that’s when I became an “amateur” in the true sense of the word! I was lucky to be surrounded, on a daily basis at home, with the top fashion magazines of the time where talented photographers like Guy Bourdin and Helmut Newton were freely expressing themselves – no holds barred. It was the seventies when there was a total cultural and sexual revolution, so a fantastic era for gifted photographers with strong personalities who had so much to say. I don’t think I fully understood their messages at the time. But I was transported by the aesthetics and poetry in their images and without really realising it by the magic of their lights!
At 18 in the mid-eighties I started my modelling career and Milan became my base. It was a boom era for big names in Italian couture and a particularly creative period in fashion photography. Peter Lindbergh, Paolo Roversi, Giovanni Gastel and many others were being swept along on a wave of neo-realism, asking models to pose for shots imbued with emotions, sentiments and nostalgia. In effect we were being asked to do the work of an actress and to bear our souls to transcend our physical appearance. Fashion photos were really works of art.
Again I loved the lights, the atmosphere and, I don’t know, the gut-churning aspect of it all. When posing for those marvellous photographers I also talked and learned a lot from them. I think some of them could already see what I was not able to express – that I was one of them!
But at the time, the silver halide film cameras were too heavy for me and those famous “lights” more and more extravagant. I was feeling all the physical limitations to what my inner being and imagination was telling me to do. That’s why I chose to open my own agency so I could help talented young photographers to develop their art, and now some of them are among the world’s top ten photographers. We were like a creative organisation, where instead of working for projects on a purely commercial basis we worked together on concepts where I could express what my imagination was dictating to me. It is probably because I fell under the spell of it all at a very young age that I am able to spot emerging trends. When you have to shoot fashion photographs, it’s a very precious gift!
I only dared pick up a camera myself once digital cameras had freed me of a major handicap – the sheer weight of the camera body. But I am not a big fan of the results from digital, so I had to tame the beast and teach it to deliver a silver halide film effect! It was an amusing experience for a girl who is not a technical wiz!
What are your main artistic influences?
All fashion photographers! And the great masters of this craft from the 1950s. I like Irwing Penn, Avedon – Bourdin is a mentor for me. Newton, I love his contrasts, not always his themes, although his famous photo of a girl in a tuxedo for Yves-Saint-Laurent remains in my eyes a “must” of the genre! I am also sometimes influenced by David Hamilton and the romanticism of his outdoor lighting. I’m also influenced by Deborah Turbeville and Sacha, both of whom were the high priestesses behind the image of Marie Claire in the 1980s. I adore Annie Leibovitz, who is still doing great things for the American Vanity Fair. Like all photographers of my generation, I can’t deny being a fan of Peter Lindbergh, although I have been less moved by his work of the last few years. Honestly I could go on ad infinitum with this list as I have also been captivated by Steve Hiett or amused by Eddy Kohli. My cradle was fashion photography and I have fun sometimes when I’m doing a shoot, thinking “go on – put in a nod to this person’s or that person’s work!” I have been such a devourer of fashion images for so long now that consciously or not they’ve all influenced me!
What is your technique?
I’d like to say that my technique is no technique! Like Ellen Von Unverth, I’m a former model and like her what interests me most is the staging; technique is a poison that we have to accommodate! However we should resolve this idea as nothing is achieved without technique. So, as I said, I don’t like the “surgical” side of digital cameras. This craze for mega-pixels is to my mind wonderful for still life portraits but not for exploring the human soul. I like creating accidents with light and recently I have even found pleasure in randomly focused or even slightly blurred images. There’s more magic, more emotion, more poetry in them. I want to speak to the soul before the eyes! Of course I want my photos to retain an aesthetic quality and elegance but I like it when they generate an emotion before someone says “oh, isn’t she beautiful!”
What is your favourite subject?
It’s true but surprising that I am less and less attracted to fashion photography which has become a marketing tool, preferring to practice photography as an art – there is more freedom as there’s no product to sell, just emotions to express.
It’s also true that for now I mainly focus on women, but I also like photographing men. My choice of model is entirely dependant on the story I wish to tell. I’m probably being very inward-looking as I want to express through my images my thoughts as a woman, my rants, my affirmations. I am probably slightly at odds with what today’s society tends to push to the fore; as much in terms of the methods as the violence which has become the norm. Violence is everywhere and I can’t see much subtlety anymore in the world we are creating for ourselves. I think that an essential role of women in our secular society is “gentle determination”; to change the world that surrounds us with a sophisticated subtlety. I have the impression that today’s society does not help women to hone this aspect which is such an important part of their personality.
I want to encourage people to reflect on this question through my images. And this reflection is targeting men as much as women. In fact I’m talking about human relationships in general and this amazing game of seduction that goes on between men and women, which makes us stronger, more assertive and in the end makes us feel so much more beautiful inside!
Your last series focuses on the return of the “vamps” – can you tell us about that briefly?
With the book Kiss Me, bang bang! and the exhibition of its 36 best photos, I am talking of the great 20th century muses – the boyish look of the Roaring Twenties to the pin-ups of the Second World War – I revisit the vamps of the old thriller movies and great Hollywood icons.
With these portraits of women I want to show that they were much more than just painted dolls or mere fashion victims of their time.
I don’t like the tendency to reduce the image of those women often described as objects. I claim the right to play around with the apparent superficiality to skirt round that kind of obstacle. In fact, these women sometimes revolutionised their societies with their fashion and styles that reflected a free spirit and lifestyle, and at other times supported their men by bringing sweetness and the art of seduction into places where fear of imminent death reigned supreme. From Marlene Dietrich, who went to the front to perform for the troops, to the pin-ups who posed regularly for army magazines, each had their own way of working that contributed to the myth of America’s glory days. Nose Art is testimony to that - women are inseparable from the American war effort.
In my opinion this message should be a challenge to women today. It’s not so very frivolous to want to be seductive as long as the seduction is subtle, intelligent and elegant. In some ways, a sophisticated beauty can be a vector for the evolution and intellectualisation of our society. Subtlety implies reflection, detail and observation – in short there is nothing frivolous about it.
Can you tell us about your future projects?
Firstly I will continue to give my Kiss Me, bang bang! vamps several outings. I’m still waiting confirmation regarding their destinations but very likely they will be offered a short stay in Paris and other capitals. At the same time I also want to establish an artistic portrait studio here in Monaco where people can rediscover a desire to have their own portrait done as a work of art. But more importantly, I have already been working on a very ambitious project about the secrets of the great libertines of the 17th and 18th centuries and literature. I want to reiterate my belief that subtlety conceals seduction and even erotic games.
The idea behind this project is to prove that there is no need to reveal all to be provocative, as I will be talking about banter and libertinage, without ever showing any nudity.
Contrary to what we see today, I think a fantasy can be much more exciting if we leave something to the imagination. Maybe I am going against the grain again, but then I like upsetting preconceptions – and by doing so making people think.
How do you see the future?
That’s a funny question! Philosophical, free – hopefully to be a famous artist! And always to have that mischievous streak, like itching powder, which forces people to look at things in a different way again and again!