After having already enjoyed careers as a model, journalist and gallerist, Bettina Rheims began to explore photography in her late twenties, and has since become one of France’s most internationally acclaimed contemporary practitioners. Her style has often been shaped by the glamour of fashion photography, yet she has also explored religious subjects, picturing scenes from the life of Christ in the controversial series INRI (Monacelli, 1999), and in 1995 she was commissioned to take the official portrait of Jacques Chirac. In 2002 she was awarded the Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur for her lifetime’s achievement.
Rheims established herself with a dramatic series of portraits of strip-tease artists and acrobats, which won her a solo exhibition at the Pompidou Centre as early as 1981. From there she moved on to Animal, a series of images of stuffed animals which seem eerily alive, but since then she has always put the human figure at the centre of her work. In the mid 1980s she produced many portraits of actors and other celebrities for magazines such as Elle and Paris Match.
While she has had considerable popular success with her work, she has never compromised her taste for the strange and shocking. In Modern Lovers (1989-91) she depicted a series of androgynous adolescents. In her famous series Chambre Close, her first in color, she found a group of ordinary women to pose nude in unconventional poses; and these images were coupled with a fictional text by Serge Bramly for their publication in 1994, marking the first of what have been several important collaborations. And in Morceaux Choisis (2001) she produced a stylish twist on pornography.
Bettina Rheims lives and works in Paris. Over a decade of her portraits of women were collected in the volume Female Trouble (1989); More Trouble (Schirmer/ Mosel, 2004) supplies another retrospective survey. Among her recent books is Shanghai (PowerHouse, 2004), the product of six months immersed in the Chinese city. Rheims was awarded the Grand Prix de la Photographie de la Ville de Paris in 1994. Since her first solo exhibition at the Pompidou Centre, Paris, Rheims has exhibited at the Maison Européenne de la Photographie, Paris; Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney; Bijbelsmuseum, Amsterdam; and the Kunsthaus Wien. Retrospectives have been staged recently at the Kunsthal, Rotterdam, in 2006, and the Musée d’art Contemporain, Lyon, in 2008.
[Edwynn Houk Gallery]