I was lucky to visit the catchily named La Maison Européenne de la Photographie while on a business trip to Paris. The place is vast! At the time of my visit there were a number of artists’ work on show. A retrospective on the work of Bettina Rheims was the main feature, occupying 3 levels of the gallery. Other exhibits were Renaud Monfournay, Tony Hage and a collection of Taiwanese photographers.
In this write-up I focus on the work of Rheims and Monfournay. My notes from the visit are attached in a pdf below.
Monfournay’s exhibition was of black and white portraits of musicians. The work was edgy, with a gritty rock and roll expression. His own website features many examples of his work, including ‘musician’s gallery. Not a Kodak smile in sight – Monfournay’s images capture the spirit of his subjects with narratives that reflect their individuality. Monfournay talks about his work (in French) around Manchester (see Vimeo reference) with a focus on its music culture. I’d like to watch the interaction between this kind of portrait photographer and his sitters – the psychology of it – something to look out for on Youtube.
I was not familiar with the genre of photography that Rheims works with – I’d describe her work as highly erotic and controlled, mostly featuring female subjects, and with a good dose of imagination behind the poses and narratives for her sitters. I-D-Vice magazine features an interview with Rheims, and introduces here as, ‘French photographer Bettina Rheims was a disciple of Helmut Newton, and his influence is visible in her work. Many of her series echo the sexually charged exhibitionism and focus on female flesh so closely associated with the iconic photographer.’ Helmut Newton (1920-2004) was a fashion photographer dubbed ‘the king of kink’ (artsy). Some examples of her work can be seen on her own Instagram account (link below) or a Google image search (or Pinterest) on her name, produces many images. They are obviously popular on the internet, perhaps because of their subject matter.
Sex and sexuality is a significant part of our lives but mostly treated as a private part of our lives. For me Rheim’s work raised questions – is there a boundary between art and pornography, or is it simply the context that makes the difference? How does the erotic objectification of the female form sit with the feminist ideology? Is it just that this work sits on the fault-line between public and private and it is cultural and societal norms that determine whether we perceive it as art or pornography? Questions too difficult to answer in the context of a blog post on a gallery visit. The work was technically accomplished and imaginative but there was the uncomfortable feeling of becoming a voyeur legitimized by art. It is not something I would like my children to see and I do wonder how the exhibition would sit in other less ‘open minded’ parts of the world.LA-MAISON-EUROPÉENNE-DE-LA-PHOTOGRAPHIE
Artsy.net [website]. Helmut Newton. Available from: https://www.artsy.net/artist/helmut-newton [accessed 13.2.16]
Bettina Rheims [Instagram]. Available from: https://www.instagram.com/bettinarheims/ [accessed 13.2.16]
The Guardian [online]. Is Nobuyoshi Araki’s photography art or porn? Available from: http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2013/may/08/nobuyoshi-araki-photography-art-porn [accessed 13.2.16]
I-D.Vice [website]. bettina rheims photographs the complex worlds of sex workers, prisoners and celebrities. Available from: https://i-d.vice.com/en_gb/article/bettina-rheims-photographs-the-complex-worlds-of-sex-workers-prisoners-and-celebrities [accessed 13.2.16]
La Maison Européenne de la Photographie [website]. Available from: http://www.mep-fr.org/english/ [accessed 13.2.16]
Manchester par Renaud Monfourny . Available from: https://vimeo.com/79094056 [accessed 13.2.16]
Renaud Monfournay [website]. Available from: http://www.renaudmonfourny.com [accessed 13.2.16]