Homa Taj in Conversation with Legendary French Photographer JEAN-DANIEL LORIEUX

Courtesy Jean Daniel Lorieux

Jean Daniel Lorieux : Seducing the Lens is on view through Saturday, December 6 at French Institute Alliance Française (FIAF) Gallery, 22 East 60th Street, New York.

Homa Taj – Your new show Seducing the Lens opened at French Institute Alliance Française (FIAF) Gallery, late in October. What is it like to be back in New York City [after how many years? When was your last exhibition, here?] at this prestigious institution?
Jean-Daniel Lorieux – I was in New York just a year ago, and it reminded me of my very first visit to the city, when I came to work with the Vogue editor Diana Vreeland. This first photo shoot with her was truly a gift from heaven. It was an homage to a photographer who had always stirred my imagination and had made me want to become a photographer myself, Richard Avedon, still a young man at the time. New York has always been in my head and in my heart because this wonderful city inspires enthusiasm, combativeness, and joy!

HT – You are a native Parisian and have worked, literally, all over the world. How would you describe your experiences of working with American fashion editors?
JDL – I am still in touch—in fact just half an hour ago—with Anna Fauconnier, one of the editors of American Vogue with whom I worked, who was the assistant to Susan Train. Still alive, very pleasant, I first them met them both 40 or 50 years ago. I have enjoyed great friendships with these American editors who are always so professional and cheerful. Sometimes, when we were shooting on the beach, people mistook the editors for models because they were so elegant and chic.

HT – Also, how are your American collectors different from those in Europe or Asia? If at all different? [Btw, do you have an American dealer/gallery?]
JDL – Yes, I have a French gallery that represents me in New York, Galerie Dumonteil. American collectors are more enthusiastic and direct. Either they like the photo or not. In Europe, collectors see a photo and say that they like it a lot, but sometimes it takes them a month to decide if they want to buy it.

HT – Your new book Sunstroke was just published in France. It surveys nearly four and a half decades (1970-2014) of your photography. What was it like to take time away and review your vast body of work whilst you continue to create new images?
JDL – It is important to take the time to look back at the past in order to improve the future, to continue developing one’s work. Sometimes when I look back at photos I have taken, I want to recreate the spirit of an image, but to update the style.

HT – As a fashion photographer, you have worked with some of the greatest talents in modern design history: Christian Dior, Pierre Cardin, and Yves Saint Laurent. How do you think contemporary fashion designers’ notions of elegance and eroticism (as it relates to feminine sexuality) have changed?
JDL – I think that in France Azzedine Alaïa is still very contemporary, and Elie Saab’s styles remain absolutely classic. However, I believe that the evolution of a designer’s style is also an adaptation to the times. Coco Chanel’s designs helped shape her era.

Designers define contemporary tastes, but their style also adapts to life, which is different today from the 1950’s. In haute couture, class and elegance are not the same as eroticism. Jean-Paul Gauthier always injects a little whimsy into his styles, a little spice. I find it more erotic to see a woman a fully dressed than when you see too much of her legs or her décolleté. For a man, we like to dream about what is behind the pretty dress, to fantasize about undressing the woman and discovering her, rather than seeing everything right away.

HT – In 2008, Russian businessman and philanthropist Evgeny Yakovlev commissioned you to create a series of photographs inspired by Mikhail Bulgakov’s dramatic novel The Master and Margarita (1967). Was it your or his idea to cast Isabelle Adjani?
JDL – Actually, this gentleman wished to bring the novel to life, and decided that Isabelle Adjani should play the role of Margarita. He saw in the novel parallels to Isabelle’s performance in the film “Queen Margot.” And in fact, at Isabelle’s suggestion, I hired the costume designer from “Queen Margot” to create the colors and different tones of muslin for the scene of the satanic ball. I am happy that Isabelle is currently performing in the new play “Kinship” at the Théâtre de Paris.

HT – Also, The Master and Margarita is a very cinematic series. Have you ever thought about making a movie – either as a director or a cinematographer?
JDL – Actually, I began my career as a mechanical engineer on film sets. I worked as a film assistant, and even wrote a few screenplays. One of them was a beautiful story that was supposed to star Marcello Mastroianni, who had signed on. Universal Films put up a million dollars to finance the film. I wanted to change the story though, and Mastroianni wasn’t happy with the changes, so he turned down the role. An actress friend came to see me and said: “My boyfriend loves your screenplay.” It turned out that her boyfriend was named Milos Forman; he wanted to help re-work the film. The film was called “La forêt des papillons” (“The Butterfly Forest”), and took place in a forest in Greece with an abundant population of butterflies.

While I began my career in cinema, unfortunately I have trouble focusing on one project over such a long a period of time. In photography, you click, and the image is created in two seconds. Of course in reality, preparing for a big photo shoot can take 8-10 days of preparation. Photographing the “Master and Margarita” series with Isabelle Adjani took almost a month. But there remains, in my heart, a certain nostalgia for cinema.

HT – Speaking of movies, in 1978, you produced a film called Les années SEA, SEX and SUN. Were you inspired by Serge Gainsbourg’s song (of the same title)? Is the film available to watch…?
JDL – In reality, it was a documentary television network that chose the title. Unfortunately I did not know Gainsbourg well. I did a few “clicks” with him though. Another film I produced was called “Ecran Total” (English translation: “Sunblock Cream”). In my life, I always love the sun, the sea, and the blue sky—not too many clouds. I would rather make people dream than bring sorrow. It is important to dream and laugh; one should always feel that there is sunshine down the road…

HT – You have photographed such historic and pop cultural figures as Nelson Mandela, Brooke Shields, Frank Sinatra, Farah Fawcett, Jacques Chirac, Charles Aznavour, James Brown, Mick Jagger, Glenn Ford, David Lynch and countless others. Which of these (or others) was the most memorable
JDL – The next one…

HT – You have photographed screen beauties from Claudia Cardinale to Sharon Stone and Isabelle Adjani. I think there was a greater sense of feminine maturity in actresses of the 1960’s and 1970’s. I recently re-watched Faye Dunaway and Steve McQueen in The Thomas Crown Affair (1968) and was surprised that she was only 26 when the film was made. How do you think representations of women & beauty have changed in today’s cinema?
JDL – Today there is less mystery and fantasy around actors and actresses because the world has changed. You can have coffee with George Clooney [in the Nespresso commercial], and the tabloids publish photos of Madonna shopping and jogging at the Place de la Concorde…

HT – 2015 is a very busy year for you since you have a series of exhibitions opening in Shanghai and Palm Beach [anywhere else?]. Does this mean that we will be seeing more of you in the United States?
JDL – I have an exhibition coming up in Berlin, and there will be a large exhibition in Shanghai. In 2015, there will be an exhibition featuring my work called Photo Med that will tour several Mediterranean cities: Beirut, Casablanca, and Nice. Then, they are planning to show it in Los Angeles and Paris. Sadly, my work has been shown very little in France. Perhaps my photos are too sunny, and in France my sky is too blue…