March 17 - May 11, 2006
galerie jerome de noirmont

exhibition release

What I’m looking for, apart from working on the skin, is the light that comes from within. This has been precisely what Bettina Rheims has been searching for in every series of portraits and which is expressed more than ever in this new work. The 23 portraits, shot in 2005 and on show at the gallery from March 17 to May 11, are of 23 women with an “off-beat” kind of beauty, photographed in a very sober setting with a stone/base as the only feature on which the models were asked by the artist to compose with: it’s your stone, it’s the only thing you have left in the world…

The new series marks the fulfilment of the artist’s deep-seated wish to establish a relationship with sculpture in her photographic work, as if, suddenly, the models could be seen in 3D. Bettina Rheims was marked by the vision of antique marbles or Rodin’s bronzes, in which the bodies seem to gush out of the stone; it’s this gush that she wanted to transcribe into this new series of photographs. A backdrop had been set up in the studio with, as a starting point, a photo of Giacometti’s studio, with grey walls and floor, and streaks of chalk-coloured plaster. We then built up a large stone, a sort of base that would turn at will so that the women would not touch the floor, but would emerge from the stone or merge with it. The artist offers her models a stone, as if she were offering them a pedestal for their charisma.

While the relationship with sculpture can be clearly seen in the presence of the stone, it can also be seen in the way in which the photographed women are enveloped and moulded in the clothes they are wearing. Bettina Rheims wanted to have the women dressed by a designer, her friend Jean Colonna. They used haute couture dresses lent for the occasion and specially chosen for each of the women. These models were damaged, were re-assembled by Jean Colonna, who thus gave them new life. This is not about raw sexuality as seen in photographs of nudes in which the genitals and breasts are ostensibly displayed for their erotic value, but about a sexuality which reveals the nudity of the soul through the fabric. Here, Bettina Rheims refers us to the symbolism of skin in the history of art as an evocation of people’s origins, age, condition and status. This time, with the painted, soiled, tortured, abandoned and even dying bodies in the portraits of Egon Schiele, Lucian Freud and the German expressionists in mind, she asked make-up artists to create skin textures saturated with the blue of the veins and the red of the cold, with the eyes often heavily made up with black and plastered with bright colours.

The photographer has in fact chosen to offer some very “off-beat” portraits of these women usually portrayed as being the world’s most beautiful women : Milla Jovovitch, Asia Argento, Laetizia Venezia…These Bettina Rheims’ “heroins” are the very opposite of the photos shown in fashion magazines: they offer us a beauty that comes from within, born out of their charisma and revealed by their abandonment on the stone. Throughout the series, as an artist, Bettina Rheims adopts an analytical look at the world of fashion photography that reveals a personality and leads to something “beyond” fashion that interests the photographer.

For this series, Bettina Rheims used a large format camera, when the shot is triggered of thanks to a cable release, when the “decisive moment” takes place eye to eye. The artist was thus able to achieve a greater degree of intimacy then ever before in her relationship with the models, a relationship of a previously unequalled strength, intensity and emotional level.

Héroïnes is, without doubt, the most complex work that Bettina Rheims has undertaken, encompassing in each of these 23 portraits a multitude of intersecting views and thoughts about the position of women in today’s world, on which she once again places her revealing gaze.

CATALOGUE published by the gallery for this exhibition, with a bilingual French/English text by Catherine Millet. All works reproduced full-page in colour. Edition limited to 2000 copies.
Available from March 17, retail price : 50 € VAT included.

PRESS CONTACT: Emmanuelle de Noirmont
Tel : +33 (0) / Fax : +33 (0) / E-mail :
IMAGES : 300 dpi images available. Access codes on request.