“I have been searching for time past all my life.” – Jeanloup Sieff
If you haven’t yet explored the visual talents of iconic fashion photographer Jeanloup Sieff, then you can do so in a new book entitled ‘Sieff: Fashion’ – a showcase of his 40-year career in which he was best known for his nude portraits and striking fashion imagery.
The book, which features a cover shot of model Jill Kennington taken in 1964, who legendary Vogue editrix Diana Vreeland once called, ‘One of the best models around’, traces the 60s through to the 90s, with Sieff (who was born in Paris to parents of Polish origin), reliving his memories and encounters via poignant text and a beautiful collection of pictures, which span across four chapters.
From his work for Esquire and Vogue to Glamour and Harper’s Bazaar, his subjects included Rudolf Nureyev, Twiggy, Catherine Deneuve and a nude Yves Saint Laurent – a picture taken in 1971 to promote the designer’s first perfume for men, ‘Pour Homme’. The image was considered scandalous at the time, but like much of Sieff’s groundbreaking work, it reflected modernity and challenged conventional taboos of male nudity in mainstream advertising of the era.
Sieff, who died in 2000, was one of the most renowned lensman of his generation, predominantly shooting in black and white with precise contrasts and perfect lighting.
Often compared to Helmut Newton and Guy Bourdin – where Newton played at hyper-sexualising the female form, Sieff chose to create a timeless and classic aesthetic that even now would be difficult to date.
But similarly to Newton and Bourdin, Sieff was fond of presenting the female derrière in much of his work. In one of his last interviews with the newspaper Libération, he said: “The derrière is the part of the body I prefer. That’s because I’m a born nostalgic, and the derrière preserves memories: it faces the past and doesn’t care about an uncertain future.”
Sieff also documented Parisian life while observing the beautiful people from his regular table at Cafe Flores, the now classic art-deco haunt of many a literary icon like Jean-Paul Sartre, through to modern day fashion royalty such as Karl Lagerfeld. As he watched the younger generation pass by one Winter, he wrote one of my all time favourite quotes:
“I am surrounded by future corpses, beautiful young corpses, unaware of their own precarious hold on life, thinking that they have eternity before them. For years I watched the pretty girls pass by on the street, wondering what their breasts were like, how copious their buttocks … today I often imagine them as skeletons. I look for the death’s head sleeping under their hair and waiting patiently for the moment when it will appear in the darkness of a tomb. All cemeteries are filled with long-legged passers-by who turned the heads of those sitting on the café terraces in the 1930s” . ( September, 1989)
It’s a reminder to us all about the passing of time and how youth, sadly, does not last forever.
Sieff ‘Fashion’, published by Taschen, is out now to buy priced £36.00