The many faces of Bettina Rheims

For 35 years the French photographer Bettina Rheims has seen herself through the faces of other women.

– People might think I take portraits, but I don’t. It’s fiction what I do.

When you walk through the gallery on the second floor of Fotografiska in Stockholm, Bettina Rheims own voice will accompany you. On the wall are images from a career spanning more than 35 years, and as you look at them, Rheims thoughts on her work pours out of the speaker system. She say’s she loves women, which is evident. Many of the faces you see here, are famous: Madonna, Angelina Jolie, Charlotte Rampling, Sharon Stone and Catherine Deneuve. There are teenage girls, photographed naked for the first time and advertising campaigns for Lancôme and Chanel. Finally, there are the people who seem to be neither women nor men, but a little bit of both – the strongest images in the exhibition.

© Bettina Rheims, Andrej P. III
Bettina Rheims has taken an interest in the androgynous since the 90s, a theme in many of her series. A lot of the people she photographed for the series Gender Studies she found through a Facebook page she made for the project. Andrej P. III.

Bettina Rheims was born in Neuilly-Sur-Seine, an prosperous suburb of Paris, in 1952. Her father managed the estate of Pablo Picasso and introduced her to the world of fine art at an early age. Rheims own art goes beneath the polished surface of her upbringing, but she still seems to leave a shiny, bourgeois gloss on the raw, trashy and sometimes provocative content in her pictures. Her first photographs were of strippers in the seedy Pigalle district in the 1970s. Like a lot of fine art photographers, Rheims works in series, many of them made in collaboration with her former partner, the author Serge Bramly. After having published a series of photographs of undressed women in hotel rooms in 1994, Madonna got in touch and asked to be photographed in the same way. The image was used for the cover of Madonna’s single Human Nature.

188 Madonna lying on the floor of the red room I, Septembre 1994, New York
Madonna lying on the floor of the red room I, Septembre 1994.

The women in Bettina Rheims photographs are often naked or half-undressed, but that doesn’t mean they give access to their innermost feelings. On the contrary, several of the photographs show a striking insistence on control. In other images people seem completely exposed . One of my favorite pictures is the portrait of actress Kristin Scott Thomas who is about to pull a wig off her head. It’s shows us a kind of role play that isn’t reserved for actors, but that’s part of being human.

Bettina Rheims was one of the first to photograph Kate Moss, long before the British model was famous. Kate. Décembre 1989, Londres, from the series Modern Lovers.

Bettina Rheims has pointed out that all her photographs are, in a sense, self-portraits. Looking at them you feel the same way – it’s impossible not to see aspects of yourself in them, wether it be the parts that make you proud or make you blush. As we get older, looking at oneself in the mirror can be an ordeal, but this is something different. In Bettina Rheims photographs, experience and the search for self-knowledge is fare more attractive than conventional beauty.

30 Kael T.B. I
Kael T.B.I from the series Gender Studies.

I’ll be Your Mirror av Bettina Rheims at Fotografiska in Stockholm until June 12th.

Want to see more? Check out these photo exhibitions:  

New Scandinavian Photography

Kunstnernes Hus, Oslo

Ten young Scandinavian photographers presented new works in an exhibition curated by the Oslo gallery MELK. Each artist explores and challenges the medium of photography, often in dialogue with other art forms such as painting, sculpture and film.

Until June 26th.

Strange and Familiar

Barbican, London

What does Britain look like from the outside? Photo veteran Martin Parr has selected 250 images of his homeland seen through the camera lens of a variety of known and lesser known international photographers. The pictures show different aspects of Britain from 1930 until today.

Until June 19th.

Helmut Newton – a retrospective

Foam, Amsterdam

Foam often combines “blockbuster” exhibitions of renowned photographers with young talent and interesting themes. The big draw this summer is photographic legend Helmut Newton – incidentally a major influence on the work of Bettina Rheims.

June 17th-September 5th. 

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