Eyestorm, London, United Kingdom

Baroque Nude by Jean Loup Sieff

Jean Loup Sieff Biography

Paris, 1933, died 2000

The great French photographer Jeanloup Sieff died on 20th September 2000 at the Laennec hospital in Paris. He was 66.

Jeanloup Sieff was a star, one of the first French photographers to make it in America, a serial prizewinner (he won the Grand Prix National de la Photographie in 1992) and a big player in the commercial photography and advertising worlds. The other side of the same coin was that the artworld always treated him with a certain distance. He was too much the gentleman- amateur - in the tradition of Jacques-Henri Lartigue - to be fully accepted by the artworld, but then nor was he ever very sure that he wanted to be part of it either. He was an old-fashioned 'smudger': loving the very craft of photography and the life it led him. He affected a casual insouciance about his pictures, and didn't have much time for what he considered pretentious or laboured analysis. He revelled in a certain levity: 'I'm proud of the two adjectives superficial and frivolous', is how he put it in his last book. He liked a certain vulgarity, even thrived on it, but anybody who ever met him also remembers a man of tremendous erudition, who quoted the literature that he loved with a passion and grace that few could match. He was never lost for a quote.

Sieff took a while to find his place. He had brief stints at Elle and at Magnum, and left both without either having made any mark on him. A few great reportage series, notably on a miners' strike in Belgium in 1959, remain as witness to another kind of photographer that he might have become. But in the early 60s he found himself at the Jardin de Mode magazine with Frank Horvat and Helmut Newton, and suddenly fashion could be shot in real locations out on the streets - Sieff was in his element.

Between 1961 and 1966 Sieff was a great success in America. He worked for everybody: Esquire, Glamour, Vogue, although he was perhaps most touched by his contact with Marvin Israel at Harpers Bazaar. From then on commercial photography, and fashion in particular, was his business, and he left them only to recharge his batteries. Such diversions included the portraits that he loved to make, a brilliant landscape series in Death Valley in 1977, and the nudes on which he increasingly concentrated as he grew older.

Sieff had a huge popular appeal, in France and elsewhere. His pictures were always inimitably his own, whatever their subject. Brooding black and whites, always exquisitely printed, became his trademark style. Yet in everything he did, he managed to instil a sense of psychological upset or doubt within the picture.

A dandy all his life, early risers in Paris grew used to the longhaired and elegant man driving his tremendously stylish, vintage English sports car for an early breakfast in the St Germain district. It was always hard to tell how much of that playboy languor was only show; he certainly knew how to enjoy himself, but he was also a deeply serious man at the very top of his profession. Almost everybody knows a picture or two of Sieff's, even if they perhaps don't know that the image is his - and that is an extraordinary legacy.


Jeanloup Sieff's photography delights in the pleasurable. When in 1954 he put aside ideas of a glamorous life in film or on the French Riviera working as a gigolo, it was for a career in photojournalism, driven by a different kind of pleasure-seeking: 'the physical pleasure of rendering certain shapes, the pleasure of those maddening lights, the pleasure taken in composing and living through spaces and meetings'.

His photographs, however, communicate an undying fascination with the glossy world of the movies, of pleasurable lives lived under the Hollywood sky, of movie-still photography, where a moment of glamour is paused with all the expressionistic lighting effects of the film set still glowing.

Sieff's work is frequently described in terms of Proustian remembrance, an interpretation fuelled by his use of deliberately evocative titles, like that of his monograph, Demain le temps sera plus vieux. However, he notes 'if I have caught myself struggling to remember, it was, if not a pretence, at least premature, in that I only ever used photography for my own pleasure - even if I then bewailed the vanished pleasure which my pictures brought back to me'.

Though his Vogue fashion shoots of fur-trimmed and pampered London in the 1960s are some of the most recognizable of the decade, Sieff also took countless opportunities to photograph dancers. Possibly his most important project is his chronicle of dancers who have appeared with the Paris Opera Ballet, including Rudolph Noureev, Carolyn Carlson, Claire Motte and Nina Vyroubova. If there is a typical Sieff model, she is a teenage dancer with gathered up hair, pictured at practice, flexed and craning.

Sieff argues that dancers have a 'corporeal intelligence' that enables them to fill space with their movements. 'Among the models I photograph for the fashion magazines, I recognize immediately the ones that have studied dance. They know how to carry their heads, they have a certain way of sitting and a natural elegance that the mastery of their bodies has shaped forever.'

One of Sieff's earliest images is of a spindly blonde ballet student at Boris Kniaseff's dance school in Lausanne. The image reminded him of a Giacometti sculpture, and it is an ideal to which he constantly returns. Inevitably Sieff's photography responds to the culturally pervasive images of dancers created by Degas and Seurat, and of Rodin's bathing women. His photographs occasionally revisit poses made by Seurat's models, but in the language of the fashion shoot.

There is a more politically engaged and introspective side to Sieff's work which, though he downplays its importance, addresses his own wartime rootlessness and wanderings. This side is revealed most clearly in his cracked and brittle-seeming photographs of Death Valley and the shots of unpopulated landscapes in Scotland.

After narrowly avoiding the draft for the Algerian War in 1958, Seiff joined the Magnum photographic agency in 1958 - what he called 'taking the holy orders of photography' - and worked for them first in Rome, covering the death of Pope Pius XII, then in Turkey, Greece and Poland. Characteristically though, he left for the demi-monde of New York and the attractions of Harpers Bazaar magazine.


Nagoya, Japan, 1995

'Images 95', festival de Vevey, Switzerland, 1995

Institut français de Cracovie, Poland, 1995

Fahey/Klein Gallery, Los Angeles, USA, 1995

Biennale de Nancy, Nancy, France, 1994

'Hommage a 93 derrieres.', Galerie Contrejour, Paris, 1994

'Regards sur la mode', Bell Commens Gallery, Tokyo, 1994

'40 ans de mode', Navio Museum, Osaka, Japan, 1993

'40 ans de mode', Art Factory, Sendai, Japan, 1993

'Paris des artistes', l'AFAA, traveling exhibition, China, 1993

'Photofolies', Rodez, France, 1991

'Photographies silencieuses', Credit Foncier de France, Paris, 1990

Bell Commens Gallery, Tokyo, 1990

'L'annee derniere, Comptoir de la Photo, Paris, 1989

Rencontres internationals de la Photographie, Arles, France, 1988

Vision Gallery, San Francisco, USA, 1988

'Paysages', MJC, Amiens, France, 1988

Paco Gallery, Tokyo, 1988

'Torses nus', Mois de la Photo, Athens, Greece, 1987

'Retrospective', Musee d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, 1986

Zeit Foto Salon, Tokyo, 1986

'Torses nus', Musee Nicephore Niepce, Chalon-sur-Saone, France, 1986

Hamilton Gallery, London, 1986

Journees Internationales de la Photo, Montpellier, France, 1986

Amsterdam Festival, Amsterdam, The Netherlands, 1986

Maison de la Culture de Dunkerque, France, 1985

Festival de Vienne, Saint-Andre-le-Bas, France, 1985

Festival de Rennes, France, 1984

Festival de Tregor, France, 1984

Centre culturel français, Essen, Germany, 1984

Institute français, Aix-la-Chapelle, France, 1984

Museum Hagen, Germany, 1983

Hamilton Gallery, London, 1983

Institute français, Cologne, Germany, 1983

Novecento Gallery, Palermo, Italy, 1982

Canon Gallery, Amsterdam, The Netherlands, 1982

Galerie Photogramme, Montreal, Canada, 1982

Galerie municipale 'le Chateau d'eau', Toulouse, France, 1982

FNAC Montparnasse, Mois de la Photo, Paris, 1982

Watari Gallery, Tokyo, 1982

Silver Vision, Tulsa, USA, 1982

Netzhaut Gallery, Frankfurt, Germany, 1981

Fiolet Gallery, Amsterdam, The Netherlands, 1979

Photogalerie Portfolio, Lausanne, France, 1978

Librairie la Hune, Paris, 1978

Galerie Paule Pia, Anvers, France, 1977

Galerie Dieuzaide, Toulouse, France, 1976

Foster White Gallery, Seattle, USA, 1976

'43 portraits de Dames remarquables pour une raison ou une autre, dont quelques payages

hautains', Galerie Agathe Gaillard, Paris, 1976

FNAC Montparnasse, Paris, 1975

Silver Image, Tacoma, USA, 1975

Canon Gallery, Amsterdam, The Netherlands, 1975

Spectrum Gallery, Barcelona, Spain, 1974

Nikon Gallery, Tokyo, 1983

Galerie des Philosophes, Geneva, Switzerland, 1973

Nikon Gallery, Paris, 1972

Les Maisons de la Culture d'Abbeville, Bordeaux, France, 1971, traveling exhibition

Academie d'Art Moderne, Gand, Belgium, 1971

Underground Gallery, New York, 1971

Maisons de la Culture d'Amiens, Amiens, France, 1970

Angers, France, 1970

Tours, France, 1970

Le Havre, France, 1970

Galerie la Demeure, Paris, 1969


'Paris, vintages', Hamilton Gallery, London, 1996

'Paris, visages-paysages', Paris, 1996

'Medecins sans frontieres, Paris, 1991

'Fashion Photography since 1945', Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 1991

'Histoire de la Photo de mode', Kunstforum, Vienna, Austria, 1990

'Les prix Niepce', Musee Art moderne', Dunkirk, France, 1990

'Le choix des sens', Revue Cliches au botanique, Brussels, 1989

'20 ans de photo creative en France', Fondation Bayer/AGFA, France, 1988

Rencontres d'Arles, France, 1988

'Palais Garnier vu par.' Opera de Paris, 1988

'Hommage a Ferrari', Fondation Cartier, Jouy en Josas, France, 1987

'La photographie de mode', Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 1985

'Regards sur l'architecture', Angers, France, 1984

'Photo française: 10 photographes', Ministere des Relations exterieures, 1984

'Photo française: 10 photographes', Association Français d'Action Artistique, 1984

'Photo française: 10 photographes', RDA, 1984

'Photo française: 10 photographes', Sweden, 1984

'Photo française: 10 photographes', Denmark, 1984

'Photo française: 10 photographes', Finland, 1984

'La photo française', Buenos Aires, Argentina, 1983

Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris, 1982

'Photographie de mode - Vogue 1920-1980', Musee Jacquement Andre, Paris, 1982

'Paris-Paris', Centre George Pompidou, Paris, 1981

'Photoscopies 81', essay on Carolyn Carlson, Centre national d'art contemporain, Paris, 1981

'La photographie de mode française', Galerie Zabriskie, Paris, 1979

'History on Fashion Photography', Rochester Museum, USA, 1977

Galerie Canon, Geneva, Switzerland, 1976

'The Human Image', Museum of Art, Washington University, USA, 1976

'Portfolio 76', galerie Portfolio, Lausanne, France, 1976

'Confrontation 73', Universite de Dijon, Dijon, France, 1973

'La photographie française', Varsovie, Poland, 1972

'La photographie française', Moscow, Russia, 1972

Musee Cantini, Marseille, France, 1968

'La jeune photographie française', Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris, 1967

'Photographies de mode', Photokina, Cologne, Germany, 1966

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