Recent Close Up IV speaker Courtney Husselmann gets her hands on the Bettina Rheims most recent book ‘Unclassifiable’ and shares her opinion on an industry icon…
Bettina Rheims is a “photographer of the skin”. From the very first photographs of young Kate Moss, to a comprehensive reflection of modern-day Shanghai, Rheims is considered to be one of the most respected contemporary photographers in the industry today. Last year -from her extensive portfolio- she released a new photo-book showcasing 500 of her favourite images as a portrait of female sexuality.
Featuring high-profile commercial campaigns alongside fine art series, her bold new book nods towards the influences of Diane Arbus and personal critique, Helmut Newton. The sheer multitude of imagery she has included in publication collectively challenges the predictable narrative of fashion and boudoir photography, and diverts the emphasis from what could be seen as verging on pornography, into an honest and refreshing experience of the human body.
Much of the formal portraiture is a playful insight into the fictional words of French novelist, Serge Bramly, with whom she famously collaborates to this day. However, Rheims’ general interest in life for those outside societal norms has led to many diverse documentary projects. She has directly witnessed the evolution of gender perception through the 1980s AIDs crisis, and assisted female prisoners to reclaim lost femininity by reintroducing an external gaze. The images reveal a level of strength, as well as fragility, ultimately making each image relatable for any viewer. It is through this intimacy with the subject in which Rheims connects sexuality with her work.
Whether celebrity or as yet unknown models, it’s clear that there is a sense of wonder when approaching these women, and it’s incredible to see how every person is photographed with the same dedication to detail and interest. Rheims has proven skilful in reaching what is deep and unknown, enabling everybody to feel comfortable by engaging in conversation and building that crucial relationship between photographer and model. It’s really these connections that are the most important foundations of excellent portraiture.
From a fashion-based commercial background, Rheims now focuses on religious fundamentalism and politics for upcoming series, likely revisiting the documentary style previously explored in Shanghai. However, Rheims will always be known for her controversial nudes, her inflexibility to conform, and supreme class in representing the human figure.
For me, this book is more than a celebration of women. It is an artefact of growth and united presence amongst females. It identifies the seemingly lonely emotions of doubt and insecurity with a sense of global recognition. This book encourages women to appreciate women and find similarities in the majority, and therefore find beauty in themselves.