Photographers I Love: Seydou Keita

Photographers I Love: Seydou Keita

I love how Seydou Keita’s images use the formality of 19th-century bourgeoisie portraiture in an unmistakably African setting.

Seydou Keita ran his studio in Mali’s capital, Bamako, from 1948 to 1962. He captured not only portraits but a changing society, as his country went from being a French colony to being independent. His black and white images endured the test of time and are now celebrated for their formal beauty and humanity.

Born in 1921 in Bamako, Seydou Keita came from a large family and first worked as a carpenter, following his father’s footsteps. After an uncle gifted him a camera, he learned the craft from friends and his own experimentations. What started as a hobby soon became his life and livelihood.

His studio quickly gained fame in Mali and neighboring countries in West Africa. His use of props and backdrops was unusual for the time and helped set him apart. A genius at marketing, Seydou Keita stamped his photographs “Photo Keita Seydou,” which helped spread his name far and wide. He also hired assistants to find clients all over Bamako, ensuring a steady stream of work.

You can chart Mali’s social evolution through his images as the country went through an extraordinary economic boom and modernization during Seydou Keita’s time. While his earlier photographs show men and women in traditional garbs, later work have them in suits and Westernized dresses. His subjects flash signs of their success, from purses or watches to a scooter or a car (even though some of these props were at times borrowed from the photographer!). Seydou Keita shows an idealized version of his subjects and the world around him.

Formal portrait of a younf Malian woman, sitting on a chair
Portrait of two young Malian women sitting on a scooter
Portrait of three young Malian men, standing tall, dressed in suits

As his access to professional gear was limited, Seydou Keita used mostly daylight. In his backyard turned studio, he hung fabric, echoing the rich velvet drapery found in classic paintings of noblemen. In Seydou Keita’s settings, velvet drapes are replaced by “wax”, a cotton cloth with batik-inspired printing and commonly found in West Africa, turning a European art tradition on its head.

Seydou Keita patiently directed his subject, showing them examples of past portraits and directing them toward the best pose and attitude. He often took only one frame as his clients could not afford more. (One frame! Think of this next time you fill your 5mg card shooting the same thing for 2 hours!)

Portrait of a Malian woman, with her traditional dress laid down around her, sitting down, with a patterned fabric in the background
Formal portrait of a Malian woman, dressed in traditionnal dress and headdress, sitting regaly in front of a richly patterned African fabric

In 1962, after Mali gained independence, Seydou Keita was offered a job as the official government photographer – an opportunity he couldn’t pass. He closed his studio a year later. His work stayed mostly untouched for 30 years before being “discovered” and exhibited in the West in the 1990s.

Seydou Keita is now regarded as the father of African photography. His images are iconic representations of West African life and culture in the second half of the 20th century. His legacy lives on as his work continues to inspire a new generation of photographers who aim to capture the diversity and richness of African life.

© Seydou Keita

Disclaimer: Aurelie’s Gallery does not represent Seydou Keita. My “Photographers I love” series is purely for inspiration and to encourage discussion.

Photographers I Love: Sebastião Salgado

Photographers I Love: Sebastião Salgado

Are Sebastião Salgado’s photographs too beautiful for their subject matter?

I asked myself this while watching “The Salt of the Earth,” a documentary, about Sebastião Salgado. It’s a beautiful film (no surprise there as Wim Wenders was at the helm), but it left me filled with questions and doubts.

Here was a man who took stunning photographs of some of the most horrible moments in recent history. From the famine in Ethiopia in the 1980s to the genocides in Serbia and Rwanda a decade later to burning oil fields at the end of the Kuwait-Irak war, his images are incredible. The black & white is rich and saturated; the skies are dramatic, and the people evoke biblical imagery of suffering and sacrifice. The images are heroic in scope, received numerous awards and praise, and found their way to art galleries and museums around the world.

Yet, the reality they show is one of despair and death.

While one can question the “beautification” of misery, we could argue that beauty makes people look at things they would usually avoid. As Sebastião Salgado said, “The beauty of the photographs lends dignity to the people in them.” He further explained, “I felt a compulsion to show that dignity is not an exclusive property of the rich countries of the north but exists all over the planet.”

Moreover, why should beauty and documentation be mutually exclusive? Beauty is a tool to reach people – look at the iconography of the crucifixion in Christianity: pain and death are sublimated to inspire piety. Beauty does not negate the problems. Sebastião Salgado uses it to show us the harsh reality too many people face in this world… Ultimately, as all artists, he does what he does and wouldn’t know (or want) to do it any other way!

“When you take a portrait, the shot is not yours alone — the person offers it to you.” Sebastião Salgado

African mother holding her baby against a chest in a refugee camp
A lone worker walks among burning oil fields in the Kuwaiti desert

Sebastião Salgado was born in 1944 in Brazil and grew up on his family’s cattle ranch. He left his remote childhood home to study macroeconomics in ever-expanding São Paulo. Embroiled in the fight against the military dictatorship, he and his wife, Lélia, fled the country and settled in a life of exile in Paris, France. Sebastião Salgado started working as an economist for the International Coffee Organization. It was during his trips to document coffee farmers in Africa that he took some of his first photographs (using his wife’s camera that he had borrowed for the occasion!). What started as a simple tool to help in his work soon took over his life. In 1973, he left a promising career as an economist and began working as a freelance photojournalist and documentarian.

Sebastião Salgado mostly worked on long-term self-assigned projects, often documenting the aftermath of war, or focusing his lens on globalization and its consequences (migration, urbanization, working conditions…). He worked for news organizations and NGOs alike, always championing social justice. His training as an economist helped him frame his work in a larger narrative, taking into account the politics and sociology of the situation. But he chafes at the limitations being called a “social photographer” or even a “photojournalist” brings. For Sebastião Salgado, photography is “[his] language, [his] life and [his] way of going about and doing things.”

“You photograph with all your ideology.” Sebastião Salgado

For his series “Gold,” he spent time in an open air-gold mine in Brazil where thousands of men toiled in horrendous conditions. His photographs bear witness to the folly of gold: people left everything and ended up working in dangerous conditions in the hope of striking it rich with a crack of their pickaxes. The images of mud-covered men toiling on the flank of a mountain look almost biblical. You might as well be looking at ancient Egyptians building the pyramids.

Sebastião Salgado’s choice to shoot in black and white comes from his early photos taken in Africa as an economist. They were in color, but he felt color was distracting from the core information he had tried to capture. I can see that – B&W eliminates superfluous details and helps us focus on what truly matter: someone’s look, an object, the scope of a landscape… Black and white is also timeless, which makes sense for Salgado’s work as it is often linked to a larger, longer story. His series on migrants talks about modern-day workers but evokes the 19th-century industrial revolution, which marks the beginning of today’s reality.

An African family walking in the desert in search of food and help

After years of documenting man’s cruelty, Sebastião Salgado eventually burned out, depleted after witnessing so much misery. He changed course and left wars and conflicts behind to document earth’s beauty and diversity, going back to nature to cleanse himself of man’s sins. For “Genesis,” he traveled to 32 countries over 8 years, from the Artic Circle to New Guinea and the Amazonian jungle. His focus is nature and man’s resilience against all odds. Images of pristine lands and people who live in accordance with their surroundings offer us inspiration and hope.

While always deeply concerned with people’s fate, his work on “Genesis” broadened his preoccupation. “Today I think of the other species too – they are as important as my own. The behavior of our species, what we do to nature, to other species, to each other, is awful, so I have the same skepticism about us that I always had.”

The Brazilian military regime having made way to democracy, Sebastião Salgado returned to his home country. There, he decided to take care of his family farm which had been mismanaged for decades. The lush vegetation of his youth was now an empty wasteland. He and his wife set out to rebuild the original ecosystem, planting thousands of trees and encouraging animals and birds to come back. They turned their 17,000 acres into a nature preserve and created the Instituto Terra, a nonprofit organization dedicated to reforestation, conservation and environmental education.

Today, his environmental local work goes hand in hand with his photography work. There’s something admirable about the arc of his life. He credits growing up in nature for his appreciation for light and attention to detail. After years of documenting the world in all its folly and chaos, he’s again on his family land, bringing it (and himself) back to life. Man and nature, life and death, hope and despair… they are all part of him.   

Amazonian indigenous woman with a traditional headdress

© Sebastião Salgado

Disclaimer: Aurelie’s Gallery does not represent Sebastião Salgado. My “Photographers I love” series is purely for inspiration and to encourage discussion.

Meet Jazz Photographer Jimmy Katz

Meet Jazz Photographer Jimmy Katz

Jimmy Katz is the most prolific and celebrated jazz photographer of the last 30 years.

As NPR stated, “How you know you’ve made it in jazz: you get your photo taken by Jimmy Katz!”

I am incredibly proud to show his work and grateful for his trust and support. We met through Tim, my husband, who worked with Jimmy and his wife Dena on a few of their shoots.

They opened their world to us and invited us to intimate jazz performances. Thanks to them, we got the chance to see some incredible talent and witness jazz’s creativity and mastery.

Jimmy Katz’s love for the music can be felt through his photographs. Since that fateful evening when, as a teen, he went to see Thelonious Monk and Art Blakey at Carnegie Hall, he has loved and breathed jazz. He now has more than 4,000 records and an encyclopedic knowledge of the music and its history.

One of his most cherished memories is when the great Andrew Hill invited him to sit practically under his piano during his last recording session. Hill was dying of cancer but enjoyed the creative energy of the moment. Art is an act of creation and so, by extension, it is life — never was this truer than on that day.

Over the last 30 years, Jimmy Katz has photographed the who’s who of jazz. He added audio recording and engineering to his arsenal to further his work and connections to the musicians.

Jimmy and Dena Katz have done over 200 magazine covers for Downbeat and Jazz Times alone and have worked on over 580 recording projects for a variety of labels. They have witnessed and captured creative collaborations few others ever get to see or hear.

Arthur Taylor playing on his drums
Portrait of Ray Charles
Greg Osby playing the saxophone on stage

Giant Steps Arts, the non-profit Jimmy Katz founded in 2018, is his way to give back to the community. Thanks to donations, he’s able to help musicians create personal projects free of artistic compromise or commercial constraint. Unlike with a traditional recording company, the musicians keep ownership of the master tape and are then able to sell their music freely.

The fact that Jimmy Katz knows his subjects so well gives an extra depth to his portraits. They are not just people in front of his camera for him – many are friends and people he has worked with over the years as a music recorder and engineer. He sits next to them while they play and works alongside them to capture improvised moments of musical brilliance.

Jimmy Katz approaches photography like a jazz musician approaches music. There’s a plan, yes, but there’s always room for last-minute changes and for that elusive magic all artists chase after. He brings all his gear to the set and chooses on the spot the ones that work the best for that moment. Like in jazz, things are calculated AND free – a perilous exercise many fail, but one Jimmy Katz excels in.

Portrait of Ornette Coleman

Photographers I Love: Jeanloup Sieff

Photographers I Love: Jeanloup Sieff

I had the incredible opportunity to pose for Jeanloup 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!

Jeanloup Sieff 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?

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, Jeanloup 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!

Fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent, naked, sitting on leather pouches on the floor
Torso of a woman wearing a tight corset
Woman wearing high heels laying down on a bed

Born in 1933 in Paris, Jeanloup 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.

Jeanloup Sieff’s 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. My “Photographers I love” series is purely for inspiration and to encourage discussion.

Photographers I Love: Ruth Bernhard

Photographers I Love: Ruth Bernhard

Ruth Bernhard’s images are both sensual and graphic in their simplicity. Her lighting and compositions elevate everyday objects and bodies to minimalist abstractions. 

Ruth Bernhard had quite a life. Born in 1905 in Berlin, in what was then the Prussian Empire, she went through the horror of World War I as a child. Her parents divorced when she was two and she hardly saw her mother afterward.

Her father was Lucian Bernhard, a famous graphic designer and artist, who became her champion and encouraged her to find her own voice.

She came of age in the Weimar Republic, that cauldron of arts and ideas, where Bauhaus aesthetics and ideals reigned supreme.

I wonder if her unconventional upbringing didn’t help her in a way as she was unburdened with society’s expectations of women. Ruth Bernhard was left free to become who she wanted to be and create the images she wanted to see — a rare thing for women at that time.

Ruth Bernhard moved to New York in 1927 and soon after started her photography career. She frequented other artists and became a fixture in the lesbian world, moving back and forth between the East Coast and California, before settling for good in San Francisco where she died in 2007 at 101 (!!).

Her female nudes are her more well-known works – and rightly so as they are stunning. But I’ll admit a fondness for her still-life photographs. They are very graphic and, at times, abstract. Look at the image she created using simple straws! Or the one with the Lifesavers candies! Her approach transcends her subjects and turns them into otherworldly aliens.

Ruth Bernhard might not be the biggest name in photography history (and not everything she did stood the test of time), but she deserves a second look.

After all, Ansel Adams, who knew a thing or two about photography, hailed her as “the greatest photographer of the nude” (high praise indeed!).

“If you are not willing to see more than is visible, you won’t see anything.” Ruth Bernhard

Rows of Lifesavers hard candies, neatly arranged to create an abstract visual

© Ruth Bernhard

Disclaimer: Aurelie’s Gallery does not represent Ruth Bernhard. My “Photographers I love” series is purely for inspiration and to encourage discussion.

Photographers I Love: Sally Mann

Photographers I Love: Sally Mann

Sally Mann photographs childhood like no other.

I am not a mother so I don’t have firsthand experience with kids. I only have a vague idea of what it means to have this viscerally physical connection with another being. Art gave me a glimpse into that reality.


Once was in Terrence Malick’s movie The Tree of Life, when you see a character lying down on the grass with her newborn baby – you could feel their closeness. The other time was looking at Sally Mann’s photographs of her children.

Sally Mann started documenting her family in the 1980s. They lived on an old farm in Virginia filled with history and surrounded by lush vegetation.

She decided to use an old 8×10 camera, which gives her images their timelessness, but also means these are the opposite of quick snapshots.

There’s nothing casual when working with a 100-year-old clunky large format film camera! Sally Mann’s images are carefully constructed, and she later spends hours in her darkroom to achieve the desired effect.

The resulting images are beautiful and poetic. They also raise at times uncomfortable questions. Your reaction to them will depend in part on your degree of comfort with the uncomfortable.

“Immediate Family,” her 1992 gallery show, became a lightning rod and deeply divided the public.

Some felt she was exploiting her kids; others argued her work was nothing more than an artsy take on child pornography, while her admirers praised her for capturing childhood and its complexity in such an honest way.

Portrait of a child fiercely looking at us while an adult off camera holds her
A young child's naked chest covered with flowers

Her images can be read on a multitude of levels, which creates ambiguity and, in turn, unease. Without context, without knowledge of her and her family life, you can see the worst in her world.

For example, in the portrait Damaged Child, her eldest daughter is shown with a swollen eye and looking angry. You would be forgiven to think she might a victim of child abuse. The truth is much simpler though: she was upset because she had been bitten by a gnat!

Another image shows a young girl holding what looks like a cigarette. Many people thought she was smoking when in fact it was a candy cigarette. Still not a good idea [full disclosure, we had them too in France when I was a kid], not obviously not as serious as a problem as kids actually smoking!

A young girl holding a candy cigarette as if she's smoking

I’ll be honest: some images do make me pause, if not make me uneasy. At the same time, I learned to lean into this discomfort and question it (and myself).

Great art is meant to raise questions so we learn more about ourselves and the world. It’s not always about bringing us answers – some questions have no answers – but about making us think.

I love Sally Mann’s work not only for its beauty but also because it challenges me.


© Sally Mann

Disclaimer: Aurelie’s Gallery does not represent Sally Mann. My “Photographers I love” series is purely for inspiration and to encourage discussion.

12-year-old girl sitting across a chair in a garden

Photographers I Love: Richard Avedon

Photographers I Love: Richard Avedon

Richard Avedon’s portraits stay with you, never to be forgotten.

MoMA had a retrospective of Richard Avedon’s work many years ago; it was the first time I saw his prints and I was struck by their beauty.

I especially remember his portrait of Brigitte Bardot: it looked like she was irradiating light; it was truly magical.

That portrait made me understand how important the printing process is, how much it can add to an image.

Not to say that Richard Avedon’s images need any help: his portraits are incredibly powerful – they are both intimate and epic at the same time.

I’m a huge Marilyn Monroe fan and he captured the sadness behind her smile like no other photographer ever did.

“My portraits are more about me than they are about the people I photograph.” Richard Avedon

Born in New York in 1923, Avedon grew up in a family of fashion retailers. He joined a Camera Club at 12 and started documenting his life, using his younger sister as his model and muse. His father was a self-made man and a strict disciplinarian who had little time for his kids. It seems to me Richard Avedon had both the freedom to pursue photography and the discipline to turn it into a success.

He worked for a while as a photographer for the Merchant Marines, taking ID photos of the crews. Throughout his career, Richard Avedon regularly went back to everyday people as subjects – the most famous example is his portrait series of laborers in the American West.

Actress Brigitte Bardot
Shirtless beekeeper covered in bees
Actress Marilyn Monroe looking downcast

Richard Avedon went on to study photography with legendary creative director Alexey Brodovitch, who recommended him to Harper’s Bazaar. Avedon shot for the magazine where he became known for his distinctive style. While in the 1950s most photographers stayed in studios and models often looked more like mannequins than real, breathing women, Avedon didn’t shy away from shooting on location.

I remember a show at ICP of his fashion work. His images showed glamorous people in beautiful settings having fun. The exhibit’s scenography was striking: some rooms were painted black, with the B&W images seemingly floating in the ether.

In 1962, Richard Avedon started working for Vogue, shooting most of its covers for the following 25+ years. Besides his fashion editorial assignments, he also developed a successful career in advertising, from Versace to mainstream companies like Colgate.

Group of people in evening wear

From iconic movie stars to unknown workers, Richard Avedon’s portraits are powerful and timeless. His setup is minimalist and intimate, with no props to distract us from the person in front of us. He asked his subjects to look straight at the camera and probed them with personal inquiries or controversial discussions… Avedon was not just photographing their face but their personality, and even soul.

The most recent show I saw of his was at Gagosian Gallery in Chelsea, where gigantic prints of full-length groups of people loomed over us (see the photo from that day at the top of the post)… No matter the setting, Richard Avedon’s images are always powerful and striking.



© Richard Avedon (except the photo of the gallery show, which is mine)

Disclaimer: Aurelie’s Gallery does not represent Richard Avedon. My “Photographers I love” series is purely for inspiration and to encourage discussion.

Photographers I Love: Helmut Newton

Photographers I Love: Helmut Newton

I have to confess that I had a hard time with some of Newton’s images for a long time. The nudity doesn’t bother me (I grew up in France in the 70s, where seeing a topless woman on the beach was par for the course!), but his seeming misogyny and the underlying S&M tones in some of his work made me uneasy. 

I later came to understand sexuality comes in a gazillion flavors (the LGBTQ+ rainbow is an apt symbol!) and what doesn’t work for me is what someone else enjoys.

I now love Helmut Newton’s work—I love how strong and fierce his women are no matter what situation they find themselves in. His images are sexy, and with just enough aggression to make them feel dangerous and transgressive.

Helmut Newton had quite an adventurous life: born in 1920 in Berlin, he fled the country in 1938 because of the increasingly anti-Jewish violence his family faced. His parents made their way to Argentina, while Newton ended in Australia, after a short sting living in Singapore. During these troubled times, he often faced suspicion as a German citizen and was interned on and off, before finally being able to settle in Australia and becoming a British subject.

“My women are always victorious.” Helmut Newton

Woman in a one-piece bathing suit and bunny ears on the terrace of a building
Woman in a tuxedo standing in a street at night, smoking a cigarette

Having worked as a photographer along the way, Helmut Newton opened a studio in Melbourne where he quickly made a name for himself. In 1957, when he landed a contract with British Vogue (quite the coup!), he moved to London.

I guess the climate didn’t suit him as he quickly left for Paris. It was after all *the* fashion capital at the time. I would also venture a guess that the French’s more laissez-faire attitude towards sex also played a role!

Helmut Newton worked for major magazines, toying in his images with eroticism and even S&M or fetishistic undertone (and, in some cases, overtones). His work is unabashedly about sex and doesn’t shy away from the fact that sex at times plays with power dynamics and domination/ submission roles. Newton was often vilified from his depiction of women—a lot of women objected to his objectification of his models, of him putting them in aggressively sexual scenarios, while others found his images to be empowering and reflecting the power of female sexuality.

What do you think? Is his work sexy or sexist?

Two women dancing on top of a hill

© Helmut Newton

Disclaimer: Aurelie’s Gallery does not represent Helmut Newton. My “Photographers I love” series is purely for inspiration and to encourage discussion.

Photographers I Love: Lillian Bassman

Photographers I Love: Lillian Bassman

Lillian Bassman has been called “The Keen of the Darkroom”, and she deserves that title!

What fascinates me about Lillian Bassman is that she reinvented her images over and over again, working on them for hours in her darkroom, experimenting with dodging, burning and masking, and creating a completely new work in the process.

Although her images start fairly straightforward (albeit beautifully composed and with already rich B&W contrasts), her editing work pushes them further and further into abstraction.

As time passes and she revisits her work again and again, her women become ethereal ghosts, their surrounding just a faint mirage.

Lillian Bassman studied painting and you can see that influence in how she uses the darkroom techniques to create her images — they have an incredible painterly and texture to them.

“The women who intrigued me [as models] had the most beautiful necks and the most responsive hand movements.” Lillian Bassman

Lillian Bassman was born in 1917 and grew up in Brooklyn and Greenwich Village, New York. She studied art and started as a photo editor before taking up a camera (a bold move for a woman at that time!). She worked for Harper’s Bazaar until the mid-60s, capturing the glamour and opulence of the couture world.

By the 70s, her style was out of favor and she decided to pursue personal projects and get rid of her archives. She unsentimentally threw away 40 years’ worth of prints and negatives! (Can you imagine? Most photographers can’t bring themselves to delete one single image! Actually, I can’t either… and I’m not a professional photographer!)

A lone bag survived and was rediscovered in the 90s, leading to a reappreciation of Lillian Bassman’s incredible talent and technical skills. Books were published, prints were made, and her images came back to the world. What a loss it would have been if that bag hadn’t escaped destruction!

Silhouette of a woman in a long black evening gown
Profile of a woman, laughing, with sunglasses and lots of necklaces
Woman seen from the back, with a large hat

Lillian Bassman made me understand and appreciate the importance and beauty of post-production and printing. Her foray into painting bears an influence on how she uses darkroom techniques to create her images. I love her work, what do you think?


© Lillian Bassman

Disclaimer: Aurelie’s Gallery does not represent Lillian Bassman. My “Photographers I love” series is purely for inspiration and to encourage discussion.

Photographers I Love: Irving Penn

Photographers I Love: Irving Penn

I love how Penn’s images capture the inherent fragility of his subjects.

A wrist twists while an ankle turns; an eyebrow arches; a body contorts itself to fit in a narrow space, the result is elegant and controlled. He built in his studio a set of upright walls to form a narrow angle and posed his subject there. It makes for awkward positions but powerful compositions! It is a testament to his art that he was able to convince the biggest stars and politicians of his days to submit to his rigorous setting.

When traveling, Irving Penn used a portable studio in a tent, which isolated the subject from their surroundings, turning them into iconic figures and emphasizing the formality of the portrait-taking process.

Irving Penn’s still life images also celebrate the very frailty of their compositions, with objects surgically placed together. The balancing act is fragile and often unexpected. The photographs often remind me of vanitas, the classical paintings that mix luscious flowers and food with symbols of death like rotting plants, flies, or a human skull.

I remember a show at MoMA in New York of his nude studies. The images had been deemed too scandalous when he took them in the 50s and were shelved for decades. They are a striking departure from his iconic photographs of fashion models and movie stars. The bodies are not conventionally beautiful, their curves and round bellies reminiscent of 18th-century paintings.

“I can get obsessed by anything if I look at it long enough. That’s the curse of being a photographer.” Irving Penn

Writer Truman Capote in the angled corner of Penn's portrait studio
Ingredients to make a salad posed on a marble tabletop, seen from above
Assortiment of fruits on a table

Irving Penn is inextricably linked to American Vogue. We can’t talk about one without talking about the other!

Penn started working as an assistant art director at Harper’s Bazaar and then Vogue back in the 1930s, while dreaming of being a painter. He went to Mexico in 1941 to paint and took photographs along the way. Disappointed by the paintings, he destroyed them – his photographs thankfully didn’t share the same fate! Alexander Liberman, Vogue’s legendary creative director, saw them and encouraged Penn to pursue photography.

Irving Penn’s first photograph to be published in the magazine appeared in 1943. He would go on to shoot for the magazine for 60 years (!!), capturing fashion images as well as portraits and still life. When I first arrived in the US, I used to get American Vogue – it felt like a necessary step to better understand my new home. One of my favorite features was Penn’s still life; using simple objects, he crafted striking images time and time again. He was an integral part of Vogue, and his departure in the early 2000s was earth-shattering news.

Actress Marlene Dietrich turning her head to look at the camera
Fashion model with a large featherly hat

Before rental studios, most photographers had their own space – a luxury few if any can afford nowadays. True to form, Irving Penn had a studio in Manhattan where he shot editorial and advertising assignments. A story runs in New York photography circles that one day an eager new hire took upon himself to wash the skylight. Penn was livid. The years of city dirt gave his studio a beautiful filtered light!

It’s easy to forget how technically challenging film photography could be. Not only shooting with film but also processing, developing and printing all had their tricks and secrets. Penn enjoyed diving into the process and developed and printed his images himself, reviving old techniques and thinking of new ways to secure his vision onto paper.

“A good photograph is one that communicates a fact, touches the heart and leaves the viewer a changed person for having seen it. It is, in a word, effective.” Irving Penn

“Passage” was one of the first photo books I got (its cover is this brilliant still life of two ginkgo leaves).

I bought it in Paris and it followed me when I moved to New York. I still have and love it to this day.

What about you? What was the first photo book you got?


© Irving Penn

Disclaimer: Aurelie’s Gallery does not represent Irving Penn. My “Photographers I love” series is purely for inspiration and to encourage discussion.


Two ginkgo leaves, one green, one yellow

Photographers I Love: Michael Kenna

Photographers I Love: Michael Kenna

It’s impossible to choose my favorite Michael Kenna’s images, I love so many of them!

In November 2022, the British-born photographer gave the entirety of his archive to the French government. 3,683 original prints; 175,000 contact sheets; 1,280 Polaroids… The donation is substantial and reasserts photography’s importance in the French cultural landscape.

I have to thank my husband, Tim Dalton, for introducing me to Kenna’s work. I was at the time working as the Co-Editor in Chief of Resource Magazine, a photo magazine I started with a friend, and looking for content. Tim told me about Michael Kenna, I looked him up and fell in love with his ethereal landscapes. He was incredibly gracious when responding to our interview questions and sent us a ton of great images to choose from! An editor’s dream.

Michael Kenna often uses leading lines in his compositions. Your eyes are directed toward something, being it a tree or the distant horizon. Landscape photographers most often shoot at dawn or dusk as the sunlight is too harsh during the day. Kenna also uses long exposure times (up to 10 hours!), which create ethereal element to his images. A river becomes an evanescent foam, while fog looks even more mysterious.

“We see in color all the time. Black and white is therefore immediately an interpretation of the world, rather than a copy.” Michael Kenna

Foggy landscape with a river in the foreground and a mountain in the distance
High mountain shrouded in clouds

I love how his images go to the essence of his subject – a lone tree in a snowy landscape, a mountain emerging from the fog… There’s no distraction, no people and often no buildings to bring us into the here and now.

I would die to see a real print of his – I’m sure they must be amazing, B&W photography really comes to life on physical prints. I was not surprised to learn that he worked as a printer for Ruth Bernhard, an older photographer who used black & white film for her work. Although their images and subjects are different, their images share the same printing quality.

I’m always interested in an artist’s background. It sometimes explains how they became who they are, but often, it doesn’t. What made a working-class kid from a large Irish Catholic family who studied to be a priest turn to art? How did he free himself from his family and society’s expectations, leave everything behind and forge his own path? It requires incredible courage and faith to believe in yourself. Too often the world beats you down; I always admire artists and other visionary talents for fighting back.

A row of trees reflected on the nearby river

© Michael Kenna

Disclaimer: Aurelie’s Gallery does not represent Michael Kenna. My “Photographers I love” series is purely for inspiration and to encourage discussion.

Photographers I Love: Sarah Moon

Photographers I Love: Sarah Moon

I thought it would be fun to write a series about some of my favorite photographers. I am starting with the one who introduced me to photography in the first place: Sarah Moon.


In the 70s my mom worked in an ad agency in Paris that handled Cacharel, a fashion line. Sarah Moon shot their campaigns in her dreamy, ethereal style. My childhood bedroom was covered with Cacharel posters. When researching images for this post, I found some ads I distinctly remember having on my wall… and I’m pretty sure the posters are still somewhere at my parents!

Since these early days, I have loved Moon’s work. I love the tactile quality of her images, her sense of color, the romanticism of her women, and the quietness of the world she creates. Most of her work is on film, sometimes on polaroid, which only adds depth and layers to her images. Although nostalgia and the loss of a bygone era infuse her work, I feel her images transcend time. Her women may be long gone, but their beauty and mystery endure…

“I create situations that do not exist, I seek the truth from fiction.” Sarah Moon

Woman in profile
Woman wearing a black dress and hat, standing against a muted yellow background
Woman wearing a black dress and hat, standing against a green background

She was born in France in 1941 but grew up in England. There she became a model and changed her name to Sarah Moon. It didn’t take long for her to decide she preferred being behind the camera, and she became a photographer. She eventually crossed back the Channel to live in Paris where she worked for the biggest names in fashion.

She even ventured into motion (I still remember the TV spot she did for Cacharel’s Loulou perfume in the late 80s) and did a couple of feature-length movies. I would be curious to find them — moving from single still images to building a narrative is often difficult for photographers who venture into motion.

But then again, Sarah Moon’s still work is often very cinematographic, full of ambiance and untold stories.

Surreal photograph of a woman sitting on a chair with tall wild grass around here

© Sarah Moon

Disclaimer: Aurelie’s Gallery does not represent Sarah Moon. My “Photographers I love” series is purely for inspiration and to encourage discussion.