“I love the flesh – I am the photographer of the skin”, the acclaimed French photographer Bettina Rheims has said.
The female body has always been her favourite muse. Her career took off in the late 70s when she shot a group of Pigalle strip-tease artists and acrobats, leading to her first exhibition. Now often working with the world’s biggest stars including Monica Bellucci and Madonna, she examines gender, surrealism and sexual impulses.
“I still find myself having to justify being a woman taking pictures of naked women,” she’s said. “It never occurred to me that there was something bizarre about it. It always felt very natural.”
Mentored by Helmut Newton (“I learned rigour, he taught me to be uncompromising,” says Rheims) and inspired by Diane Arbus (“She was a genius”) she’s framed huge campaigns for Chanel and Lancome, and her camera has captured – in unconventional fashion – everyone from Madonna to Catherine Deneuve, from Claudia Schiffer to Kate Moss, from Kylie Minogue to Asia Argento.
“When I photograph women I’m a photographer, but when I photograph men I’m a woman”, she told Another Magazine. “And if a man is attractive, then I don’t want to be a photographer. And if he’s not attractive, why would I want to photograph him?”
The Paris-born artist’s teasing, eroticised photographs of women have pushed the boundaries of beauty for almost 35 years. Once a model, and married briefly to a fashion photographer, her body of work is now globally admired. Her daring divas defy expectations.
The new book, called simply Bettina Rheims, is a sumptuous selection of over 500 images from her remarkable archives. It arrives in a limited edition of 800 signed and numbered copies ahead of major retrospectives of her work opening in January in Stockholm and Paris.
Here is a preview of her most arresting images.
Loaded freelance reporter Chris Roberts has written extensively about music, film, literature and TV. He is also the author of around a dozen books.