"With each woman that passes, I live out a love affair, fleeting but complete. When I see them some way off and their silhouette attracts me, our idyll begins. The closer they come, the more I love them. At ten metres it is passion; at six, painful jealousy; at four, it's unbearable; the heart-rending separation has already begun. And by the time they pass me, I am released and relaxed and smile calmly at them. They have become my friends, and we can exchange the conspiratorial glance of those who have experienced many things together and remember them all."
Jeanloup Sieff was obsessed by women, a pre-occupation clear in his memoirs and his striking black and white photography spanning almost four decades. His images make clear reference to those definitive feelings of lust – acknowledging the appeal of lips/breasts/buttocks or a sensual waist or neckline. "Jeanloup Sieff was passionate... typically French..", collector Gert Elfering once said. "He captures something of the women that nobody else does. Something like the Mona Lisa's smile."
"Sieff captures something of the women that nobody else does"
But Sieff's visual vocabulary is possessed of more than simple erotica. His fashion photography, published for the first time in Ira Stehmann, Sonia Sieff and Barbara Siefsief's latest publication, is remarkable. Sieff had a natural eye for fashion, creating images in which garments are memorable and appealing. A fantastic Forquet cape is shot at an angle which promotes the garment's graphic silhouette; a shot of a figure-hugging Dolce & Gabbana dress cleverly focuses on the model's waist. Although Sieff proclaimed the role of the photographer was not to show the clothes which he said were "mostly hideous". Sieff had a sense of humour which infiltrated his work – he liked to play around with conventions (using a wide angle lens in the 50s) and situations, once persuading Alfred Hitchcock to run around with a model on the set of Psycho. His images were subtly surreal, often incorporating a picture within a picture.
Born in Paris in 1933, Sieff's interest in photography began when he was given a Photax plastic camera for his 14th birthday and spent his winter holidays photographing girls he had met. After attending the Vaugirard School of Photography in Paris, he later on moved to the Vevey School in Switzerland before beginning work as a freelance reporter. After working for Elle magazine and the Magnum agency, he lived and worked in New York from 1961 to 1966 before returning to Paris. Sieff had a longstanding passion for cinema, particularly fond of the work of Michelangelo Antonioni and Ingmar Bergman, and dance; both became two key themes in his work. Sieff died in Paris, September 20, 2000 at the age of 66.
Sieff Fashion, containing over 150 images taken between the 1960s and 1990s, is published by Prestel.
Text by Laura Bradley