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: Nadav Kander

Photographers I Love: Nadav Kander

Working with Nadav Kander has long been a dream of mine as a producer. And although it will remain just that, a dream, I’m OK with it because I still get to enjoy his images!

I remember vividly when I first saw Nadav Kander’s work: I was a fresh-of-the-boat art buyer intern at BBDO New York and Bill Stockland, his agent in the US, came to show us books. Bill was a great agent – I’m sure he could have sold snow to Eskimos – but Kander’s photographs didn’t need any selling.

I love their stillness and intimacy. His soft color palette lures you into the images. I read that he reworks them in post-production to achieve the desired color effect. For Nadav Kander, an image is not finished until he gave it a treatment. Post-production is an integral part of his creative process, not just an addition.

His work is infused with melancholy, loneliness and isolation. Besides his muted color palette and love for dark and moody atmospheres, he often photographs lone figures, lost in vast landscapes. Ruins are also a recurring theme in his work – from Roman artifacts to a deserted Chernobyl, Kander explores what is left after time and death. One of is series is in fact titled, “Signs We Exist,” which shows what people leave behind: nail holes in walls where posters were; cigarettes butts buried in the sand on a beach; marks left by long-gone chairs on a floor; peeling wallpaper in abandoned flats…

Nadav Kander’s portraits share the same melancholy and depth. They at times feel like a psychological exploration of his sitter. Through reflections, dark backgrounds, or simple props, Kander offers us a glimpse into his model’s inner life. The images are unmistakably his.

At a certain level, I don’t see separation in my work: a landscape showing the palm print of humanity upon the natural world, the way we exist within our environment, is as much a portrait of a human being as a close-up photograph of a person.” Nadav Kander

Actor Stanley Tucci sitting on a chair in a dark room, holding a glass panel in front of him
A man, standing alone under a large bridge

Israeli-born, London-based photographer Nadav Kander (b. 1961) grew up in South Africa during apartheid, an experience that marked him. As he later recalled, “I grew up with injustice all around me; apartheid was in everyone’s bones.”

Nadav Kander learned about photography and its endless creative possibilities thanks to his father who used to photograph their vacations. His dad’s slideshows remain a vivid memory to this day. He started taking pictures at 13 and was interested in the early masters, like Strand, Stieglitz, Weston and Atget. Studying their work, Kander saw you could explore a range of subjects as long as you remain true to your sensibility and experience. While the subject matter changes and you need to adapt to it technically, your creative intent should remain constant. That freedom stayed with Nadav Kander, who is equally celebrated for his landscapes as he is for his portraits.

During his mandatory military service in South Africa, he managed to be drafted into the Air force and then into a darkroom where he printed aerial pictures for two years. That experience only reinforces his determination to become a photographer. He left for England soon after where his career truly began.

There are poetry and quietness in his world (and, at times, unease). Nadav Kander’s photographs act as a small meditation; looking at them brings in an immediate sense of stillness. I feel better already, don’t you?

Deserted research facility building, half fallen in ruins
Lone person, seen from the back, sitting at a picnic table in a park at night
Lone man on a small boat in a river, under a gigantic overpass

© Nadav Kander

Disclaimer: Aurelie’s Gallery does not represent Nadav Kander. 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: 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 to her friends.

Most recently, while documenting the opioid crisis that has been ravaging the US, Nan 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. Nan Goldin’s activism bore fruit: in December 2021, the Met Museum in New York removed the Sackler name from its exhibition halls.

Glass table in a living room, covered with drug paraphernalia
A man dragging on a cigarette while his girlfriend watches 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.

Nan Goldin 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 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.

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?

© Nan Goldin

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

Young man sitting by a pool
A young man laying on the trunck of a convertible car watching a movie at a drive-in, while his friends sit in the car

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.




Tyler 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.

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; Tyler 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. Tyler Mitchell shows us images we rarely see, moments when being young and alive is all that matters.

2 androgynous black youth

Before attending Tisch Art School in New York, Tyler 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 its cover is both heartbreaking and infuriating. The Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery later acquired a portrait from this series – an acknowledgment of its historical significance.

Tyler 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 Tyler Mitchell’s images are.

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

© Tyler Mitchell

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

A young Black man standing in a flowery garden
Beyonce sitting against a sheet in the middle of a lush green garden

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 Gordon 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.

Born in Kansas in 1912 under Jim Crow laws, Gordon Parks 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.

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. Gordon Parks 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. Gordon Parks 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 Gordon 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, Gordon 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.

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

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. 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 in 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!). 

Tim 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).

Born in England in 1970, Tim 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 Richard Avedon’s assistant (not like me – I went less famously to work in an ad agency).

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

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 Richard 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!).

Tim 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 Walker 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

Supermodel Stella Tenant in a long ballgown and large hat against a dark backdrop and surrounded by flowers
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. 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: Philip-Lorca diCorcia

Photographers I Love: Philip-Lorca diCorcia

I first discovered Philip-Lorca diCorcia through his fashion editorial for W Magazine. His images stood out among the glossy pages of the magazine. They had a distinctive melancholy and look cinematic, hinting at a broader narrative we were not privy to.

The productions were lavish as the magazine commissioned Philp-Lorca diCorcia to travel to exotic places to shoot high fashion with the supermodels of the days. Cuba, Russia, Brazil, Dior, Chanel, Balenciaga, amazing crews… the producer that I was then was envious (and in awe of the resulting images).

His fashion series lead me to his fine-art work, which only deepened my love for him. I’ve since bought pretty much every one of his books (and he has quite a few!).

Model in a bar seen from the street

Born in 1951 in Connecticut in a prominent Italian-American family (his father was a successful architect), Philip-Lorca diCorcia’s first photographs were of relatives and friends, taken in their homes.

While the situations are rooted in everyday banality (as in the photograph of a man looking into an open fridge), his use of light and the stillness of his subjects bring mystery to the images.

Why is this man peering so forlornly into his fridge? Why does he look so transfixed by it, as if hypnotized?

Man looking intently inside his fridge

Philip-Lorca DiCorcia’s work mixes documentation and fabrication: he favors real-life subjects but bathes them in mystery.

One of his most famous series is the “Hustlers” project, which consists of formal portraits of male hustlers in Los Angeles. (One of the images opened this article.)

Philip-Lorca diCorcia carefully planned every detail of the shoot, from the locations to the lighting and poses. The resulting images are infused with melancholy; his subjects become tragic figures, lost souls who stood just long enough in front of a camera before disappearing back into the shadows.

Male hustler standing in a door frame in a motel room

For “Streetwork” and “Heads,” Philip-Lorca diCorcia chose a completely opposite approach: he set up a camera on a tripod in Times Square, New York, attached lights to scaffolding across the street and took pictures of unsuspecting strangers. Although nothing is controlled, his lighting and cropping create a narrative around these solen moments. Time is suspended, and his subjects appear alone, even when they are in a crowd.

Philip-Lorca diCorcia was later sued by one of the pedestrians he photographed. Erno Nussenzweig, an Orthodox Jew, argued that his privacy and religious rights had been violated by both the taking and publishing of his photograph, which happened without his consent. Because prints were later sold in a gallery, he felt the image was commercial (for which subjects need to give their consent), not artistic.

The judge dismissed the lawsuit as she found the project was indeed art and therefore protected by the First Amendment. Selling limited edition prints does not negate the artistic character of a work – the case was an important one for American photographers.

Model sitting in a dark bar, with a man in the foreground, barely visible

No matter the setting or subject, from downtrodden denizens of the street to anonymous pedestrians in a crowd to glamourous fashion models, Philip-Lorca diCorcia’s images have all a haunting quality that stays with you.


© Philip-Lorca diCorcia

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

Photographers I Love: Martin Schoeller

Photographers I Love: Martin Schoeller

Martin Schoeller made me understand what it meant to be a great portrait photographer.


I’ll always remember the first time I met Martin Schoeller: his rep at the time had contacted me to work with him on an ongoing Nike campaign. I went to meet him in his studio in Tribeca. I was nervous, and walking through that big loft of his, all the way to his desk, took what felt like an eternity. I guess the meeting went well because the next time I saw him was at the airport on our way to wherever the job was taking us!

If you know me, you know I’m pretty reserved — I definitely don’t open up right off the bat — and yet, I found myself telling my life story to this stranger (a client no less!) within a couple of hours. At some point, I caught myself and was like, “What the hell is going on? Why am I saying all this stuff to this guy?”

And then, I saw it happen time and time again on set. Martin Schoeller has this inane ability to connect with people, anybody, everybody, and to draw them out. For the introvert that I am, it is a seemingly magical quality!


A man in a white suit wearing bright red lipstick
Actor George Clooney, looking straight at the camera
Actress Cate Blanchett looking straight at the camera

Martin Schoeller became famous for his close-up portraits, where everyone, from Jack Nicholson to a six-month-old baby, is photographed with the same exact symmetry.

Being in front of a camera is always a bit uncomfortable for most people, but nothing compared to Schoeller’s set-up. Imagine sitting on a small stool, with curtains or V-flats creating a narrow space around you, two large lights on both sides and a big camera’s lens inches away from your face!

It’s a testament to Martin Schoeller’s ability to connect and make people comfortable that he got powerful and celebrated people to sit on that stool!

Bill Murray jokingly hiding behind a curtain in a hotel suite

His “big head portraits” have been the subject of many gallery shows and books. But I also love how his portraiture has evolved over the years. His images are smart and witty; they make you stop and think (or chuckle).

I have to thank him for making me discover The New Yorker (which is the best magazine ever!). He worked with them for a long time and, out of curiosity, I picked up a copy to see his photos and I got hooked! So, thank you Martin!

© Martin Schoeller

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

Photographers I Love: Prince Gyasi

Photographers I Love: Prince Gyasi

I have to thank the mystery of Google’s algorithm for making me discover Prince Gyasi.

While researching photographers to feature, I stumbled upon his website. His images stopped me dead in my track, their beauty and power not to be ignored.

Prince Gyasi’s colors are vivid and, at times, hallucinatory. Their vibrancy borders on psychotic. His subjects are at the heart of his compositions; few props or outside elements are used — it’s all about the person in the shot.

The darkness of their skin is unapologetically beautiful. It sometimes is so dark that you can’t see features or details, and the subject becomes a black silhouette against an aggressively colorful background.

People’s faces are often hidden, an artifice that helps transform individuals into representations. Here’s a woman, to represent all women; here’s a child, to represent all children…


3 African men holding blue blankets against an orange background

Prince Gyasi lives in Accra, Ghana’s capital. I don’t know how he got “discovered” by the western art world, but the Nil Gallery in Paris signed him in 2018. Since then, he rose to superstar status, shooting major campaigns for Apple, collaborating with fashion brand Off-White, and photographing supermodel Naomi Campbell.

What I love is that, despite his international success, he stays anchored in Africa and most of his recent high-profile projects have been made there.

Two black men in white tshirts, their head covered with white fabric, standing in front of a blue wall

Prince Gyasi is barely 30 and shoots with a cell phone (!!), proof yet again that talent has nothing to do with experience or equipment.

I’m blown away by this work. What do you think?


© Prince Gyasi

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

Photographers I Love: William Eggleston

Photographers I Love: William Eggleston

William Eggleston is credited with making color photography a legitimate art form. To understand this, we need to put him back in his historical context, the late 1960s.

Back then, most of the art world was struggling with accepting photography itself as art. Unlike traditional mediums like paintings or sculptures, photographs can be reproduced, which made them less “valuable” to traditionalists.

Even when people considered photography an art form, they would often draw the line at color photography, which was seen as too commercial and pedestrian to be taken seriously.

William Eggleston changed all that.

Nothing in his upbringing marked him as a revolutionary… but you always have to watch out for the quiet ones!

Born in 1939, Eggleston grew up in the South in an affluent family. While he attended a series of private schools, he never graduated from any of them. He was interested in arts and when a friend gave him a camera, he latched on to it.

William Eggleston started to experiment with black and white before moving to color in the mid-60s. His early influences were Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Frank and Walker Evans, all remarkable photographers with an uncanny talent to capture beauty in the most mundane settings. Eggleston also focused his lens on everyday moments. His sense of composition and color brings an unexpected power to his seemingly simple images.

His choice to shoot in color was a natural one for him. Developing on his own as an artist far from the art world, he approached color photography with no preconceived notion that it was not a “proper” medium. Color film was easily attainable and captured the world the way he saw it – that was enough for him. As he later remarked, “Not intending to make any particular comment about whether it was good or bad or whether I liked it or not. It was just there, and I was interested in it.”

Line cook on a wall phone in a hallway
Cracked red ceiling with a bare bulb in the middle of it

In the early 70s, William Eggleston discovered dye-transfer printing, which was only used for commercial photography, or by everyday people snapping away during their vacations. It quickly became his favored printing method as it gave his prints saturated and vibrant colors.

The most famous example of this is his 1973 image titled, The Red Ceiling. William Eggleston later noted that only dye-transfer printing truly represented his vision. Any other printing lacked depth and intensity. He said, “The Red Ceiling is so powerful, that in fact I’ve never seen it reproduced on the page to my satisfaction. When you look at the dye [print] it is like red blood that’s wet on the wall.”

Parked car against a brick wall

In 1976, MoMA in New York gave him a show. Although it was not the first time the museum had exhibited color photographs, Eggleston’s show created quite a stir. The venerable Ansel Adams, one of the (grand) fathers of photography, notably expressed his distress at seeing MoMA celebrating this kind of work.

The show created such a stir that it is still viewed to this day as a watershed moment. William Eggleston broke open the door and brought color photography to one of the most influential art institutions in the world. Despite the controversy, the exhibit was a success and color photography was never looked down again.

© William Eggleston

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

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: Jean-Paul Goude

Photographers I Love: Jean-Paul Goude

Although Jean-Paul Goude carries his share of controversy, he still remains one of the photographers I love. In the 80s in France, I saw his work everywhere, from Chanel ads to highly creative commercials on TV.

Growing up in France with an American mother, Jean-Paul Goude had access to both cultures. This multi-nationalism helped shape his vision. His work often mixes a multitude of references and inspiration, rooted in both classical culture and pop culture alike.

He choreographed the 1989 celebration to mark the 200th anniversary of the French Revolution, for which he dreamed up hundreds of costumes and characters. The parade is a “best of” from his creative universe and shows his unbridled imagination.

Jean-Paul Goude was once named “the best photographer in the world” by Andy Warhol. Like the Pop Art icon, he started his career as an illustrator and art director.

Marked by the work of George Lois for Esquire, Jean-Paul Goude moved to New York to work for the magazine in the 70s. His design work there mixed photography and illustration, often with surrealist results.

You can see his background in his photographs as he uses his design skills to create truly original images. He often elongates and redraws the human body to obtain an idealized version of it.

Collage of fashion designer Azzedine Alaia and model Farida
Grace Jones posing as a statue

Jean-Paul Goude’s idealization verge at times on fetishization and exoticization, especially of black women. Some of his most famous work came from his collaboration with then-girlfriend Grace Jones. Through his photographs, he emphasized her blackness, her “otherness,” and showed her as a hypersexual object. His 1982 photo book, billed as a celebration of black women and titled Jungle Fever (sic), shows Jones naked in a cage on its cover. When NPR asked Jones if she worried how these images might be perceived now, Jones, in true Grace Jones fashion, answered, “I don’t care.” She added, “Some people feel uncomfortable with certain types of art, but it’s an art form for me.”

Jean-Paul Goude’s images are confrontational and unapologetic. He’s flipping the bird to conventions and propriety. In Grace Jones, he found the perfect muse – someone as unafraid as he was, with a larger-than-life personality to match.

There’s no denying Goude fetishes black women; they are a recurring motif in his work (and life). The obsessional objectification can cause discomfort or anger in some viewers. It can also “break the Internet” – for Paper Magazine, Goude redrew Kim Kardashian’s formidable figure, emphasizing her already imposing derriere and curvature. It was the latest iteration of a life-long obsession. 

For me, Jean-Paul Goude poses the same question Helmut Newton does: yes, some images are cringe-worthy (or worse), but I also recognize them as coming from a different time and place. Goude and Newton were most active in the 70s and 80s, a moment of great creative and sexual freedom. Since then, AIDS dampened sex, and society started to reckon with the damage the (white) male gaze can create.

Perhaps naively, perhaps for nostalgia reasons, I’ll continue to love Jean-Paul Goude for how creative and unique he is.




© Jean-Paul Goude

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


Portrait of model Farida, with handwritten Arabic calligraphy written on top of the image

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