, 29. March 2017
Making Androgyny tangible

Bettina Rheims – an Introduction

She is an icon of erotic photography. Bettina Rheims looks back on a long, successful career as a photographer. She has photographed numerous unknown models, but also numerous stars like Kate Moss, Claudia Schiffer, Madonna or the former French President Jacques Chirac.

x-working Self portrait Bettina Rheims, © Bettina Rheims
Self portrait Bettina Rheims, © Bettina Rheims

Bettina Rheims was born in Neuilly-sur-Seine in 1952, already with a certain closeness to art. Her father Maurice Rheims was a member of the Académie Française, he was an art historian and legal personal representative of Pablo Picasso. Her mother was German, a descendant of the Rothschilds, who fled from the National Socialists from Germany.

In the 70s, Rheims started photographing. The focus of her works are permissive illustrations of naked bodies. Inspired by the fashion photographer Helmut Newton, she produced portraits of acrobats and striptease dancers, who commended her in the scene at an early stage.

In addition to her permissive pictures, Rheims was also booked for glamorous fashion lines. She took photographs of stars like Kate Moss or Claudia Schiffer for magazines such as Elle, L'Officiel and Marie Claire, and in the context of advertising campaigns for luxury brands such as Chanel and Lancôme.

Rheims became famous, since she was one of the first who photographed transgender models. In 1992, she published the series "Modern Lovers". Its topic were androgyny and the game of sexual identity. Continuative to this topic, she developed the series "Gender Studies" in 2012. For the first time, she casted unknowns via Facebook. There were numerous models, who did not affiliate themselves to one or the other sex.

Another provocative work by Bettina Rheims is the series I.N.R.I (1999). Here, the artist presents scenes from the life of Christ in 200 coloured as well as in some black and white photographs. There were numerous protests in France against this project.

Bettina Rheims won the Grand Prix de la Ville de Paris in 1994. In 2002, Jacques Chirac awarded her the Order of Merit of Chevalier de la Légion d'Honneur for her life work. Apropos, she produced an official portrait for Chirac in 1995, which hung in more than 36,000 official offices across the country at that time.

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