Photographers I Love: Javier Vallhonrat

Photographers I Love: Javier Vallhonrat

I’m not sure how well know Vallhonrat is in the US, but his work was famous in France back in the 1980s and 90s, and he’s this week’s “Photographer I Love”!

 His work is moody and mysterious. Nothing is clearly shown, a lot is left to the imagination. The images invite us in and let us wander. They’re not didactic or straightforward; they evoke more a feeling than tell a story or show us something clear and precise.

Born in 1953 in Spain, Vallhonrat got interested in photography early on as his father was a passionate amateur photographer. At 18, while studying Fine Arts, Vallhonrat started assisting a fashion photographer.

Fashion would become his focus. After making a name for himself in Spain, he broadened his reach and became a successful and sought-after photographer for magazines and advertisers alike.

Portrait of a woman
A female model caught in a dancing movement
Fashion model throwing a scarf up in the air
 

I especially love his approach to color and lighting. The way he uses them creates a sort of photographic painting (or painterly photograph!).

His experimentations result in striking images. They remind me of Impressionism. And to think it is all done on film, not digital! That’s magic!

 

 

© Javier Vallhonrat

Disclaimer: Aurelie’s Gallery does not represent Javier Vallhonrat, nor claims to do so. My “Photographers I love” series is purely for inspiration and to encourage discussion.

A female model sitting on the floor in a photo studio

Photographers I Love: Nan Goldin

Photographers I Love: Nan Goldin

Nan Goldin’s photographs are not always easy to face. They show hardship, violence and pain. But they also, and more importantly, show life – the good, the bad, and the ugly of it.

Nan Goldin grew up near Boston in the 1950s. The Norman Rockwell image of suburban middle-class life imploded when her older sister committed suicide when Goldin was 11. Her sister wanted to live freely, but the loosening of social mores and the sexual revolution the pill introduced in the 60s hadn’t happened yet. Nan Goldin is a product of the liberation her sister never saw.

She started documenting her friends as a teenager, capturing unfiltered moments of intimacy and vulnerability. She befriended people in the LGBTQ+ community and ended up, a few years later, documenting the desolation the AIDS crisis brought onto her friends. 

Glass table in a living room, covered with drug paraphernalia

Most recently, while documenting the opioid crisis that has been ravaging the US, Golding became a vocal opponent to the Sackler family and their company, Purdue, which produced and pushed Oxycontin. She targeted museums and universities that accepted their money and shed light on the ugly side of philanthropy. Her activism bore fruit: in December 2021, the Met Museum in New York removed the Sackler name from its exhibition halls.

Man smoking a cigarette, sitting on the edge of a bed while his girlfriend looks at him

Her interest in people on the fringe stemmed from her teenage rebellion and the cultural environment of the time. She saw junkies as romantic figures but eventually cut through the haze and saw them for what they were – tragic figures, people lost to forces stronger and darker than themselves.

She often explained that her photographs are like her own private diary, just one made public. They are her way to celebrate and remember her friends when so many of them have passed away or were never recognized by society. Her work is about memory, first and foremost.

Nan Goldin doesn’t shy away from the pain that sometimes comes with being alive. I remember her show at MoMA and seeing with her (in)famous self-portrait where you see her with a black eye after an argument with her boyfriend. I find the image difficult to look at – the idea of getting punched in the face by the person I love is pretty terrifying for me – but there she stood, upright and strong, flaunting expectations of decorum or victimhood.

Young man sitting by a pool

Her photographs are very intimate and raise at time question about voyeurism. I don’t think anyone can accuse Nan Goldin of being a voyeur – these are her people, her friends, her tribe. She shares these moments with them, lives their pain and joy.

But what about the people looking at these private moments? What about us, looking at these photographs hanging on a wall of a gallery or museum? Aren’t we voyeurs?

Group of friends hanging in a convertible car ar a drive-in movie theater

 

© Nan Goldin

Disclaimer: Aurelie’s Gallery does not represent Nan Goldin, nor claims to do so. My “Photographers I love” series is purely for inspiration and to encourage discussion.

Photographers I Love: Jeanloup Sieff

Photographers I Love: Jeanloup Sieff

I had the incredible opportunity to pose for Sieff… but then never followed up to ask him for a print! I could kick myself!

I was working at BBDO, an ad agency in Paris, as an assistant art buyer (as we were called then) when his agent came to show us some books.

She thought I looked great, took a quick polaroid of me, and next thing I knew, I was meeting the great man himself!

He was looking for nude models for a new book. I was then beyond shy and so ill at ease in my own skin that the idea freaked me out to no end.

But I did it, mostly to prove to myself that I could do it, and also because it was Jeanloup Sieff — the man was a legend in France! How could I say no?

Fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent, naked, sitting on leather pouches on the floor

He was nice and attentive, professional and patient. The shoot took place in his loft. I remember it was during summer and Paris was quiet.

A few weeks later, Sieff invited me back to see the contact sheet and choose an image for a print, but we kept on missing each other. I got busy getting ready to move to New York; I got scared and shy again… and I never went and never got my print!

When he passed away, that door closed forever… I don’t have a lot of regrets in my life but that’s definitely one of them!

Torso of a woman wearing a tight corset
Woman wearing high heels laying down on a bed

Born in 1933 in Paris, Sieff first dreamed of cinema before switching to photography. He started his career as a photo-reporter working for Elle and Magnum. Although his reportages got his recognition, he eventually moved to fashion and portrait work.

While living in New York in the early 1960s, Sieff shot for Look, Glamour and Esquire, among others. When he came back to Paris, his dramatic and sensuous black and white style was fully defined, and he went on to create striking images of the who’s who of that time.

His use of dramatic lighting and darkroom printing techniques, like dodging, make his photographs immediately recognizable. From portraits to nudes to landscapes, all his images share the same strong compositional sense and tactile quality.

I could kick myself for not following up and missing the opportunity to have a print of his!

Nade woman laying on a couch

© Jeanloup Sieff

Disclaimer: Aurelie’s Gallery does not represent Jeanloup Sieff, nor claims to do so. My “Photographers I love” series is purely for inspiration and to encourage discussion.

Photographers I Love: Tyler Mitchell

Photographers I Love: Tyler Mitchell

Tyler Mitchell became the first African American to shoot the cover of Vogue US in 2018. He was also the youngest photographer to ever do so (he was 23 at the time!). The attention is deserved as he possesses both talent and vision.

Mitchell cites Larry Clark as an early influence, and I can see the connection. His subjects are the descendants of the 1990s cool kids Clark documented, just with a more elaborate fashion sense and more diverse backgrounds!

Growing up in Georgia, Mitchell purchased a Canon camera as a teen to shoot skateboarding videos of his friends. Inspired by Spike Jonze, he learned video editing on his own, through YouTube tutorials.

His subjects, be they models or everyday people, are effortlessly cool, like only cool 19-year-olds know how to be. They play with gender roles at times (a guy wearing a metal chain bra, a girl posing tough..), but there’s no activism beyond the images.

2 androgynous black youth

The freedom of being whoever they want to be is a fait accompli — that itself is activism! That lack of care of how people judge them shows their utter freedom from society’s expectations.

This freedom goes beyond gender roles; Mitchell brings the same casualness to his portrayal of Black America. His models are unrestricted by racial stereotypes. They are who they are, free of compromises and fear. Mitchell shows us images we rarely see, moments when being young and alive is all that matters.

Before attending Tisch Art School in New York, Mitchell self-published a book of his photographs of skaters and youth culture in Havana, Cuba. He graduated in 2017; after shooting a few series and portraits for Vogue Teen, he was picked in 2018 to photograph Beyonce for Vogue US’ prestigious September cover.

The fact that it took 128 years for the magazine to hire a Black photographer for their cover is both heartbreaking and infuriating. The Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery later acquired a portrait from this series – an acknowledgment of its historical significance.

Mitchell was later the center of a controversy about Kamala Harris’ Vogue cover in 2021. Many people judged it too casual, if not downright disrespectful toward the Vice-President. I have no interest in what I felt was a gratuitous controversy (my two cents: people who only knew Vogue took offense, people who knew Mitchell’s work did not) — what interests me is how free Mitchell’s images are.

Man standing in a garden, half hidden by flowers

I love how he captures the youth of today and celebrates the Black experience. I cannot wait to see what he does next!

“I aim to visualize what a Black utopia looks like or could look like. People say utopia is never achievable, but I love the possibility that photography brings. It allows me to dream and make that dream become very real.” Tyler Mitchell

Portrait of Beyonce, sitting in a garden in front of a white curtain, dressed in white, with massive flowers on her head

 

© Tyler Mitchell

Disclaimer: Aurelie’s Gallery does not represent Tyler Mitchell, nor claims to do so. My “Photographers I love” series is purely for inspiration and to encourage discussion.

Photographers I Love: Gordon Parks

Photographers I Love: Gordon Parks

Gordon Parks is part legend, part man… and 100% trailblazer! Photographer, filmmaker, writer, musician… he was a true Renaissance man and led an extraordinary life.

Tim, my husband, is a huge fan and introduced me to Parks’ work. I was immediately hooked: Parks is amazing — there’s no art form he didn’t (successfully) play with and his life reads like an adventure book.

He was also a Black man in mid-century America. While many were crushed, his talent helped him forge a trailblazing path of his own.

I suffered evils, but without allowing them to rob me of the freedom to expand.” Gordon Parks

Born in Kansas in 1912 under Jim Crow laws, he and his family faced discrimination and violence. He left at 14 after his mother’s death, and led an adventurous life, going from one odd job to another, one of them as a piano player in a brothel.

Completely self-taught, Parks landed a job photographing migrant workers for the Farm Security Administration.

Malcolm X giving a speech at a rally

In 1949, the documentary-based project led him to Life Magazine, a bastion of white establishment at the time. He was hired and became their first Black staff photographer. He later recalled he didn’t think twice about submitting his portfolio to the prestigious magazine – only when he was hired, did he realize he had succeeded in breaking a color barrier.

Life sent him to Paris in the 1950s. Paris was a very tolerant place compared to the States, and a lot of African American artists enjoyed there a freedom they didn’t have back home. The same was true for Parks.

A Black woman with her child standing on a sidewalk near a "Colored Entrance" neon sign

In a departure from his documentary work on poverty, crime and discrimination, he started photographing fashion for Vogue and Ebony, covering Paris’ haute couture collections. He brought to his assignments a dose of reality. Eschewing elaborate sets and poses, he favored movements and immediacy.

Life later asked him to document the Nation of Islam; Parks befriended Malcom X who gave him unprecedented access to the organization.

It is a testament to Parks’ versatility, insatiable curiosity, and empathy that he was able to feel equally at ease in so many different worlds! As he explained in “Half Past Autumn,” a documentary about his life, “I lived in many different skins.”

Protesters against police state

In 1969, Parks added another “first” to his career when he became the first African American to direct a major Hollywood film, The Learning Tree, a coming of age story based in part on his childhood. Never one to rest on his laurels (or do the same thing twice), his next movie, Shaft, was a classic of blaxploitation!

Throughout his life and career, Gordon Parks held an unflinching mirror to America and fought for civil rights and social justice. His work lives on and bears witness to where the country comes from and where it still needs to go.

PS: “Half Past Autumn” is available for free on Vimeo – I highly recommend it!

© Gordon Parks

Disclaimer: Aurelie’s Gallery does not represent Gordon Parks, nor claims to do so. My “Photographers I love” series is purely for inspiration and to encourage discussion.

Photographers I Love: Tim Walker

Photographers I Love: Tim Walker

Tim Walker’s images are magical. I feel like Alice in Wonderland when looking at them!

His boundless imagination, his wit and sense of magic set him aside. You immediately know you’re looking at a Walker’s image when you see it. I find his work also eminently British, referencing old world grandeur and fairytales. I think the world can use more of those, don’t you?

His images tell a story, and I happen to love stories. They are imaginative and witty, steeped into fairytales and childish wonder.

The models look like porcelain dolls or princesses, the world around them is both precious and fun, with unexpected details here and there (I give props to his prop stylists!). 

Walker also experiments with distortion and weird perspectives. These images make me feel like I’m on an acid trip, hanging out with Tilda Swinton, a frequent muse of his (which, come to think of it, seems like a really fun way to spend the time).

Woman in a spiralling staircase wearing an evening dress with a long train
Supermodel Karen Elson in a beautiful living room, playing the piano with a lion sitting next to her

Born in England in 1970, Walker studied photography and worked for a while on Cecil Beaton’s archives, another great British photographer.

He moved to New York in 1994 (same year as me!) to become Avedon’s assistant (not like me – I went less famously to work in an ad agency).

He later confided working for Avedon was like going into the army for fashion photography: “There was a hierarchical, old-fashioned way of working, and I learned a lot.”

While Avedon thrived on tension (and cultivated it), Walker keeps his sets light and fun. I feel you can sense that when looking at his work. I doubt he would get the same magic if his crew and talent were tense and freaked out (but then again, some people love drama!).

Supermodel Stella Tenant in a long ballgown and large hat against a dark backdrop and surrounded by flowers

Walker is old school and aims to capture as much as possible his vision on camera. He wants his models to truly interact and live in the fantasy he creates – even if for only a few minutes and only from a specific angle. There’s no CGI in his images, just old-fashioned pins, gaffer’s tape, set building and papier maché!

Although he shoots for commercial clients, he candidly admits not enjoying the process as, when working for someone else, you always have to compromise and too often end up giving in to the people who brought the check.

His heart is clearly in editorial where he doesn’t have to water down (too much) his vision. Walker often shoots for UK and Italian Vogue, which give him the freedom to turn his fantasies into reality. As he explained, “If you don’t compromise it will make a better picture.” Truer words were never spoken… Too bad most clients don’t / can’t / won’t hear them!

“Fashion is the only photography that allows fantasy, and I’m a fantasist.Tim Walker

Woman sitting on the floor dressed in a white ballgown, next to a white peacock

 

© Tim Walker

Disclaimer: Aurelie’s Gallery does not represent Tim Walker, nor claims to do so. My “Photographers I love” series is purely for inspiration and to encourage discussion.

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