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Freeing the Body: Jeanloup Sieff

A recently opened exhibition at Stockholm’s Moderna Museet looks at the work of iconic photographer Jeanloup Sieff

Among the most iconic photographs shot by French photographer Jeanloup Sieff (1933–2000) there are images of a young Yves Saint Laurent in the nude for his men’s fragrance campaign and of director Alfred Hitchcock posing around the legendary Psycho house with model Ina Balke. These pictures are now being rediscovered in a recently opened exhibition at Stockholm’s Moderna Museet, curated by Anna Tellgren. Born in Paris to parents of Polish origin, Sieff started taking his first pictures as a teenager, in 1947, abandoning his passion for cinema, first attending the Vaugirard School of Photography in Paris and then moving to the Vevey School in Switzerland. He soon became a freelance reporter, and, in 1958, joined the Magnum Agency.

In the mid-‘50s he started working for various magazines, including Esquire, Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, and moved to New York in 1961. He returned to Paris five years later to work for Jardin des Modes, and also engaged in commercial photography, including promotion campaigns for Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent and Carel. Sieff’s fashion shoots were particularly beautiful since the models featured in them turned into iconic protagonists of sensual and intriguing stories told in black and white. Sieff also took unusual portraits of writers, actors and actresses, becoming famous for his images of dancers such as Claire Motte, Rudolf Nureyev and Carolyn Carlson. Fascinated by their long and lean bodies, Sieff tried to capture with his camera the daily struggles dancers go through at different stages of preparation.

Dazed Digital: How long have you been researching for this exhibition?
Anna Tellgren:
This is something I have wanted to do for a long time and I actually took the first contact with The Estate of Jeanloup Sieff two years ago. The photographs included in the exhibition are presented in themes and the event also features one image from Sieff’s advertising campaigns, the famous nude portrait of Yves Saint Laurent from 1971 taken for the designer’s eau de toilette.

DD: Which is your favourite photograph featured in the exhibition and why?
Anna Tellgren:
It’s impossible to mention just one! I think his series featuring Carolyn Carlson (1974) is fantastic, since it’s beautiful and scary at the same time. But I also like very much his “Hand on hip” (1964) and all his landscapes.

DD: Is there anything about Sieff you discovered that you didn't know while you were researching for this exhibition?
Anna Tellgren:
That he was such a good writer and also his connections and friendship with an older generation of French photographers such as Robert Doisneau and Jacques-Henri Lartigue.

DD: How important is Sieff’s work in today's perspective and in which ways can his work inspire contemporary fashion designers, stylists and photographers?
Anna Tellgren:
He’s incredibly important: he had humour and his images are always elegant and interesting. You can find his style in everything he worked on.

DD: What do you think visitors who will come and see this exhibition will bring back home?
Anna Tellgren:
I hope they will discover a photographer and an artist and be inspired by his work!

DD: Will there be any workshops connected with this event at the museum and exploring photography, fashion and dance or analysing the work of his wife Barbara and his daughter Sonia?
Anna Tellgren: We will have guided tours – and also a conversation where we have invited a fashion journalist and a photographer who will discuss together with me Sieff’s work in connection with art and fashion.

“Jeanloup Sieff” is at Stockholm’s Moderna Museet until 22nd May 2011.