Xippas gallery is pleased to present, for the first time in a Swiss gallery, an exhibition of Parisian photographer Bettina Rheims.
Portraits of famous or unknown women make it at the heart of Bettina Reims’s work, depicting an unconventional photography, essentially dedicating itself to a peculiar iconography of the body. The photographs presented at Xippas Gallery were made between 1994 and 2013, samples from some emblematic series of the artist Pourquoi m’as tu abandonnée ? and Héroïnes.
« During a photoshoot, we must break the toy of the person posing. It’s pretty at first, and then it’s less so. It becomes confusing, weirder. This is where the story is told. »
In the early 1990s, Bettina Rheims simultaneously worked in France and the United States, producing fashion series for numerous magazines and posters for movies. She came to realize the inevitable entanglement between her personal practice and what she created on demand, therefore decided to gather samples of different projects and created a new series of photos; Pourquoi m’as tu abandonnée ?.
The representation and construction of femininity are her favorite subjects, a quasi-obsession of the artist. The woman photographed by Bettina Rheims is not only exposing herself, she actually is freeing herself, deconstructing
her image as she is discovering her body. It is a representation of unusual beauty portrayed through particularly and meticulous well-thought staging, as well as using specific scenarios imagined and mastered by the artist. Bettina Rheims therefore raises the question of a potential compatibility between feminism and fashion photography.
The instrumentalization of « women posing » is forgotten, giving the subject a new status in the way they are represented. She strays away from the gender, and through her singular point of view, brings out fantasy and concurrently denounces the authority of codes and societal prejudices. Bettina Rheims plays a major role during the body liberation era, she depicts bare skin. Her pictures break the codes of conventional portraits and fashion photography to instantaneously push the boundaries, shattering the « glamourous » , as well as bringing beauty and the erotic at their peak.
This is how Bettina Rheims’ photography is similar to a composition. She calculates, thinks and puts together the image she wants to give, like a painter using an infinite palette. A complete sense of freedom in the representation of woman which gives her pictures a uniquely modern and committed identity.
« I always thought my work was tightly related to sculpture, that these women that I’d depict actually lived in the space within the picture, not simply printed on a piece of paper. »
For the series Héroïnes Bettina Rheims invited 23 women that she had wanted to take pictures of since a long time; some of them she already knew, others attracted her because of their charisma or their iconic influence. « Melancholy is a lonely woman sitting on a rock, lost in her own thoughts,
gazing into the distance ». Inspired by this quote by Jean Clair that appeared in the exhibition Mélancolie at Le Grand Palais in 2005, the artist decides to build a rock inside her studio. The rock transforms itself into a sort of pedestal for her models to take procession of its essence, and eventually get lost in it. The series is effectively a tribute to sculpture. Women spurting out from the rock, dissolving into the understructure without touching the ground, like one of Rodin’s girls or an idol of the Cyclades.
That is why Bettina Rheims’ artistic process is unclassifiable. Portraits, fashion, political, modern, committed? Her photos use a variety of genres in order to create a singular universe. Bettina Rheims disturbs the codes established in photography by staging these women, portraying them in the most vulnerable moments, capturing the intimate relation between the model and photograph. She transcends them with her strong but matchless sense of representation. Thus, extremely disturbing portraits can be born, carried through by the eyes of the Avant-guard Bettina Rheims.