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October 16 - November 29, 2008 at Fahey/Klein Gallery, West Hollywood

by Kathy Zimmerer

The elegant fashion models, celebrities and nudes by French photographer Patrick Demarchelier are dramatically lit in high contrast that places them on the cusp of fine art and fashion photography. By emphasizing the human figure, Demarchelier’s image evokes Edward Weston’s focus on the natural curves and beauty of the body. A direct homage to Weston’s use of the body is apparent in “Nude, St. Barthelemy” (1994), where the figure becomes an abstract image deftly intersected by water. His sculptural nudes dominate the exhibition and are evocative studies in the curvilinear rhythms of the body. Ranging from his mysterious nude in shadow, “Shirley, New York” (1998) to his sensual “Nude Cindy on Studio Floor” (no date), the human form is the most important element in his work.

While Weston gravitated more towards abstraction in his nude fragments, Demarchelier crystallizes the essence of his sitters.  A French photographer for high fashion magazines for years, he has honed his eye to recreate and enhance the true self as spirit and personality triumph over outrageous lifestyles or fashions.

A case in point is his marvelous photograph of “Princess Diana” (1992), where he pares down her image to a black evening gown and sleek hair. The true Diana shines through in all her intensity and inbred grace. Another photo of “Princess Diana, London” (1990) shows the princess all in white with her tiara, but still her sweetness comes through without artificiality or stiffness, the relaxed royal. While his photographs are stark, it is a useful ploy to bring the viewer to a complete and total focus on the sitter.

His photograph of “Uma Thurman in Los Angeles” (1995) has this same simplicity. Her blond hair is silhouetted against the simple black of her sweater, her natural beauty illuminated by the contrast between dark and light. His breathtaking photo of “Scarlett Johansson” (2006) has an elemental quality to it, with all the inborn sensuality of the actress enhanced by her black gown against the white sheets. In “Kate Moss, New York” (1992), Moss is model thin and clad only in a pair of jeans. She glances back at the viewer with a burning gaze. A willowy “Gwyneth Paltrow” (no date) poses nude in a photograph that highlights her slender grace.

The gorgeous silks and brocades swirl out from the models in his photograph of “Gianni Versace, Paris” (1992). Using a triangular composition, the photographer surrounds the famous designer with his models; like a pin wheel they whirl and spin around him in a flurry of shimmering fabric. In “Christy, New York” (1990) a large white rose covers a model’s head like a hat; the strange juxtaposition of a glowing flower with the beauty of the woman’s profile becomes a poetic icon of high fashion. The attenuated body of the model in two photographs of “Maggie Rizer in Paris” (1998) eclipses the dramatic Parisian scenery behind her as her form winds down a staircase or perches on the edge of a sidewalk; the photographer captures perfectly her sinuous line.
All images © Patrick Demarchelier

"Nadja, New York,"
1995, photograph

"Princess Diana, London",
1990, photograph.

"Gianni Versace, Paris,"
1992, photograph.

"Gwyneth Paltrow,"
no date, photograph.

"Elephant, New York,"
1991, photograph.

Light is frequently used to dramatic effect. In “Sumo” (1995) the arms, limbs and torsos of the enormous bodies of the wrestlers are lit to become living sculptures, assuming a three dimensional quality. Another huge body is a rearing “Elephant, New York” (1991), also imbued with great depth thanks to the way light and shadow play off the animal’s body. His lyrical photograph of “Versailles Gardens, France” (1994) resembles a shallow bas-relief as the trees arch in perspective and individual leaves stand out to form a canopy framing the forest.

As a photographer who bridges two aesthetic worlds, Demarchelier’s use of light combined with his fascination with the human figure steadily expands his ability to maintain freshness in the context of consistently refined photographs.