As a voyeur, a straight man, a lover of women, I am and have always been, and likely always will be, eternally, in search of the perfect nude. I have had a few lovers and I have been an aesthete from early on. Perhaps it is what drove me to be an editor of arts & culture publications like BlackBook. As a writer for BlackBook I have lived between the cities of New York, Brooklyn, Los Angeles, Paris, London, and Milan. Beyond a cultured life, this is relevant because my existence has been mostly in apartment dwellings. From rear windows I have observed, unbeknownst to them, naked beauties in their most natural states going about simple daily chores. And in my eternal quest to find the perfect nude I have riffed through the pages of the masters’ books – Helmut Newton, Avedon, Irving Penn, Lucien Clergue, Andre De Dienes, Araki, Jeanloup Sieff, others.
Eight years past, while in Milan during fashion week I met Sonia Sieff. There for the shows, to write a few fashion stories for BlackBook, I was staying in a quaint offbeat boutique hotel. An artist friend called to invite me to supper at a local trattoria, which I politely declined out of exhaustion from the day’s events.
My friend would not take no for an answer and I was persuaded to join. At dinner I met a young neophyte fashion photographer and her beautiful accomplice, an actress whom she traveled with that day from Paris to Italy, to shoot nudes using the resplendent architectural landscape of Milan as environmental fodder. The two ladies were a piece of literature telling their story as they lived it. From the second we sat across from one another and dined on that warm Milanese evening, Sonia and I would become lifelong friends.
Like her father, the late transcendent Jeanloup Sieff, Sonia Sieff has her own unique ideology, style, fascination with life and beauty, and would follow in her father’s footsteps; but only on her very individual and strong willed terms. Les Francaises is Sonia’s stunning collection of exquisite nude photographs, of equally intriguing women subjects. The vulnerable women in the book are all friends of Sonia, which makes it personal. This creation, for Sonia, is her opportunity to be real and not cast nor produced like the fashion shoots she does for clients. Les Francaises is Sonia’s first book that captures the warmth, love, friendship, a genuineness, which extends into the images and on to the pages. It is that same feeling of creating a real life story, sans pretense, that drives Sonia in her personal and professional life. I know first-hand.
The photographs capture the sensuality of The French and the author. They tell stories using the sweeping landscapes of Europe, Paris and Normandy; the austerity vs the romantic intimacy of architectural theaters and cathedrals. And, the subtlety of nothing more than a sublime naked body in a chair, a drape, a stairwell, a turquoise blue sea, a blue frilled pillow tickling a woman’s bottom. The dramatic juxtaposition of these intriguing and resplendent bare-skinned women against the broad and intimate landscapes, is what creates the dynamism and elevated individuality of Sonia’s first book.
Just before the book was published by Rizzoli this past February 2017, Sonia and I met in Williamsburg, Brooklyn for a few days of laughs, food and wine, during an uncharacteristically warm New York winter. We pretended it was spring.
Why and when did you start shooting pictures? Tell us the story.
I started shooting pictures when I was 17. My father Jeanloup Sieff had offered me my first camera, a Nikon FM2, for my birthday while we were in Death Valley in the US. The film I had put in the camera didn’t work properly and I was so upset that my father left me one hour to re-do the pictures I had lost: photography had become a passion!
Is there a story to your work, a philosophical idea, something that ties life, art, creativity, work, etc, all together?
I had the chance to be raised in an inspiring world. My parents were part of the amazing years, friends with Avedon, Newton, Yves Saint Laurent and many great artists. My home was a great ballet of talented people. And at the same time we were very strong as a family, loving to exchange ideas and our works. I knew that doing books was the only thing that will stay. Photography is instantaneous, a clic clac in the silence, a second in a life. Books are timeless. Nudes as well.
Is there an idea behind the book, why have you made it?
I have always loved working on bodies, skin and portraits. I had also the chance to have amazing and wonderful friends who inspired me. The 30s is a magical age, mature but still wonderful. I wanted to picture the women I admire in their world. It is a book of real women not retouched who all are my friends and who could be my sisters.
Your father was famous for his nudes and your first book are nudes. Tell us more.
Yes, I believe it is running in my blood! However, our approach is different, he was working in black and white shooting mainly in vertical whereas my nudes are in color in horizontal. I started working on movie sets and my references are mainly cinematic.
You started shooting for the print world only. Now, how does photography connect to the digital world for you?
We were the generation who had the chance to start working in films before the 2000s and then we were still young when digital arrived. We had to adapt ourselves to this new technology. Digital has brought a lot, democratized photography as well as social media. But more than before we desperately need pictures that stay, books to look at. We need a balance to this “swipe” world.
You live in Paris and Normandy, does the political landscape of the world, the move toward conservatism and the right, impact your work?
Now in France we are preparing ourselves for the elections. More than before we have to fight against conservatism and the extremes. We are following what Trump has started destroying, and Brexit in the U.K. My personal story has a terrible echo to what is now happening in the world. My father was Ashkenazi (Jew) who came from Poland and escaped by miracle from the camps and the Gestapo by crossing France as he was ten years old, on a bicycle under a fake name. My mother is German and emigrated to France at 20. We strongly need to react and create a voice against the dangerous leaders who are creating struggles in our world. I have started by giving my voice to feminism, by participating in debates, podcasts, preparing documentaries to show another way.