Michel Comte at Leica Gallery Prague & Galerie Vernon
This Thursday saw the opening of an exhibition in Prague by one of the world’s most significant fashion and portrait photographers, Michel Comte, entitled Not Only Women – Feminine Icons of Our Times. On at Leica Gallery Prague in cooperation with Galerie Vernon, the exhibition features iconic but at the same time intimate portraits of models, directors and actresses including celebrities like Carla Bruni, Catherine Deneuve, Geraldine Chaplin or Sophia Lauren.
Ahead of the opening on Thursday, here’s what the photographer himself had to say:
“It’s always fantastic to be here in Prague – I love Prague. I like the format of the gallery that it’s almost like a coffee shop. It’s a very good atmosphere. There’s another show, at a private apartment (Galerie Vernon) and I think the contrast between the two is very interesting.”
Not Only Women at the Leica Gallery features much of his most famous work – a lot from the 1990s, images chosen by Italian curator Serena Baccaligni. In some ways, the show is a ‘confrontation’ for the photographer himself. Michel Comte explains:
Some of the most iconic images include a famous pout by Carla Bruni (at the opening the photographer and the curator disclosed the former model “never stopped talking”, with Mr Comte saying that at the moment the photo was taken she was complaining that she ‘looked stupid’. There is a sensual portrait of German supermodel Claudia Schiffer, there is a vibrant Tina Turner, and a portrait of the late sculptress Louise Bourgoeis and more. In the gallery Michel Comte also discussed an unforgettable black and white image of the great Sophia Loren:
Another image sure to capture visitors’ attention is a portrait of a younger Sofia Coppola (director of The Virgin Suicides, Lost in Translation), dressed but immersed in a full bathtub.
The author, as well as those close to him, stress how unusually quickly Comte works, but with the sharpest of eyes. And he’s always shooting: organizers said jokingly that even after arriving in Prague, he was only able to sit about an hour through dinner with friends and entourage before he had a camera in hand again. The same was true here: even as he showed me around, he was struck by a reflection of Sofia Coppola’s photo in one of Whitney Houston, combining for a new visual, and he immediately snapped the shot.
Not Only Women’s curator Serena Baccaligni said this:
Here’s how he described his approach to photography as a medium:
“For me, I take pictures every day. I make short films and I take pictures. On the train from Berlin to Prague yesterday I took like 500 pictures! Just of my wife in the reflection. I never look at myself as a fashion photographer or as a portrait photographer. I look at it as ‘recording time’ and time will tell what becomes good. I think that is what photography was meant to be, and for me anybody who attempts to do art in photography doesn’t look at it in the right way. Because only time should tell what is a good picture.”
“There was Ron Gallella, there was Barilari in Italy, you know, and these people were really hard workers. It wasn’t like now, you know. They each had three or four apartments in Rome, each with a darkroom, and Barilari at the same time had four mistresses in the different apartments, who would iron his suits! Incredible stories how these people work and all true. I think the digital world made the paparazzi very vulnerable, and today they are basically seen as gangsters because of the appropriation. But I think, you know, they do an incredible job. And as much as the celebrities say they hate them, they love it!”
Not Only Women lasts until April 3 and comes highly recommended: it will leave viewers rejuvenated. The prints, large and small, famous from the pages of glossy magazines and reproductions or unknown, are crisp, sexy, dynamic and exciting. Invariably, you may come away comparing Michel Comte to the great Helmut Newton, although some have argued Mr Comte’s approach is more subversive; more subtle. Not surprisingly, their paths crossed on numerous occasions.