“The impulse that led you to make an image is a thing that you cannot share with anyone, even if you explain it. What remains is a surface that will live its own life, that will belong to everybody. I accept that surface.” -Jeanloup Seiff
Jeanloup Sieff was tall, elegant with an eye for beauty where ever he looked. A model’s face can be hiding anywhere, even on a New York City cop (opening photo, top left image). He was French; his parents were Polish. An uncle gave him a Photax camera when he was 14 years old. Sieff said of it “If I hadn’t received that camera, today I’d maybe be an actor, filmmaker, writer or gigolo.”
He graduated in 1945 with a degree in philosophy then went onto a varied list of studies including literature, journalism and photography at Vaugirard in Paris and Vevey in Switzerland.
He sold his first work in 1950 to Photo Revue.
Jeanloup Sieff worked for four years as a freelance photographer. His work was never published. He got work for three years at Elle magazine. He resigned and joined Magnum, but resigned after a year.
He moved to New York where he worked for Look, Esquire, Harper’s Bazaar and Glamour. He also shot for the European versions of Twen and Queen and Vogue.
Back to Paris
He returned to Paris to produce assignments for Vogue, Elle and Nova. Additionally, he did advertising and personal projects. His work was wide-ranging. He made portraits of notables like Catherine Deneuve (opening photo, bottom row, center image) and fellow French photographers Jacques Henri Lartigue and Robert Doisneau.
Jeanloup Sieff worked in many other genres besides portraits — fashion, nudes, journalism, dance and landscape were all subjects for his camera. His landscapes were sweeping compositions. His nudes and fashion work show the same aesthetic characteristics as his landscapes. They all have sweeping lines, curves and compositions. His “Pyramide-du-Louvre” made in 1993 demonstrates his exacting eye. The graphic lines of the I.M. Pei-designed museum entrance reflect on the angular pool’s water. A lone figure stands in the distance creating a focal point for the compelling image (opening photo, top row, second from left).
In “Lady in Black, England” from 1964 Sieff demonstrates his love of landscape by incorporating a model walking on a narrow trail that sweeps from the foreground then curving off to the right (opening photo, bottom row, second image from far right).
“All aspects of photography interest me,” Sieff says, “and I feel for the female body the same curiosity and the same love as for a landscape, a face or anything else which interests me. In any case, the nude is a form of landscape.”
He sums up his work this way: “There are no reasons for my photographs, nor any rules; all depends on the mood of the moment, on the mood of the model.“
On art …
Jeanloup Sieff regards art this way: “I have always maintained that there is no such thing as art. There are only artists, producing things that give them pleasure, doing so under some compulsion, perhaps even finding the process painful, but deriving masochistic joy from it.”
Fashion photos by Jeanloup Sieff
This short 2:30 video is a portfolio of his fashion and nude photography. No narration in this one. The images are accompanied by music. Enjoy.