The exhibition 'Canned Candies: The Nudes of Jean Clemmer' launches this week at the new pop-up art space Flash Projects in London. “The collaboration between Jean Clemmer and Paco Rabanne was one of the greatest fashion moments of the 1960s,” says Christabel Armsden, director of Flash Projects. Photographer Jean Clemmer and fashion designer Paco Rabanne worked together on the book, Nues, which came out 1969 in Paris and went on to obtain a cult status.
The combination of Clemmer’s erotic images and Rabanne’s “unwearable” futuristic chain-mail designs was controversial at the time, but Armsden says the photographs look different 40 years later. “What’s striking about the images today is that they’re so innocent,” she says. “They capture the essence of the 1960s utopian dream in contrast to today’s overt sexual imagery.” Dazed spoke with Hélène Clemmer, who is in charge of Jean Clemmer’s photographic legacy, about her uncle’s desire to create confrontation between “the exhibitionist and the voyeur" in Nues.
Dazed Digital: What’s the story behind Jean Clemmer and Paco Rabanne’s collaboration on the Nues photography project?
Hélène Clemmer: Paco and Jean had one thing in common, they were absolute artists and they shared a creative world which enabled them to envisage anything. Nues is a result of this fusion. They both wanted to amaze, to challenge.
DD: Can you tell us about what Jean Clemmer was trying to do in Nues?
Hélène Clemmer: With Nues Jean wanted to celebrate women, his favourite subject throughout his life, and he also wanted to use Paco's accessories. He wanted to be innovative and you can see that this aim was achieved through the reaction to the book at the time.
DD: What was Jean’s response to the shocked reactions Nues received when it came out in Paris in 1969?
Hélène Clemmer: My uncle was not surprised by some of the reactions, in fact he was very happy about it, he liked to be provocative and it really amused him to know that his book was banned in certain towns. Incidentally, I was 13 at the time and my parents forbade me to look at the book.
DD: Are there similarities between Jean’s photo collaboration with Paco and Jean’s work with Salvador Dali?
Hélène Clemmer: In his work with Paco and Salvador Dali, Jean wanted to find the best way to display the talents of each man - the designer's simplicity, the artist's delirium. The privileged relationship he had with Paco and Salvador allowed him to introduce them to each other. This turned out to be fruitful introduction and the series of productions made in Cadaquès are proof of this.
DD: What are some of the themes that run through Jean's photographic work?
Hélène Clemmer: Women are obviously Clemmer's favourite subject. From his work with Paco to “Metamorphoses". in which he puts the female figure in the background and superimposes Dali's landscapes, portraits and still life’s over them. It was an amazing moment for Jean when Alain Bernardin, owner of The Crazy Horse Saloon, offered him the space for the launch of his book since Jean called it "Le Palais de la femme" (the palace of women).
DD: What do you think Jean would have said about this exhibition being shown in London, 40 years after the book was first released in Paris?
Hélène Clemmer: Jean would have been, without doubt, the happiest of artists to be exhibiting his work in London, a city he visited regularly. Throughout his whole life Jean did not seek fame for the sake of it. He preferred spending his time working creatively, but he would have been pleased to see his work on show 40 years after Nues came out.
Canned Candies – The Nudes Of Jean Clemmer Flash Projects: 26 November – 18 December 2010
Follow Karen Orton on Twitter here @AaronKorton