In a new series titled Body, Camille Vivier creates a portrait of bodybuilder Sophie, celebrating her softness and strength
French photographer Camille Vivier has long been preoccupied with the female body, her work, whether for fashion editorials or personal projects, a surreal and arresting exploration of beauty and its many, varied forms. She captures her subjects through a distinctly female gaze, never seeking to portray them as objects of desire but as vessels of strength and power. Previous projects have seen the photographer pair female nudes with images of sculptures, objects or buildings to investigate what she describes as her fascination with anthropomorphic shapes. “With those works, I was looking to create echoes, to forge a close relationship between the two subjects, searching for some abstraction,” she tells AnOther. Her newest work, Body, however, sees the image-maker taking a new direction: into portraiture. Showing in a new solo exhibition at Berlin’s Galerie für Moderne Fotografie, the images all depict the same subject, a female bodybuilder named Sophie, adopting a variety of guises in a manner reminiscent of the art of Cindy Sherman.
Vivier met Sophie through a casting agent around four years ago. “I was looking for a very athletic woman for a photoshoot,” she recounts. “When I met Sophie, I was not only fascinated by her powerful, sculptural body but I was also drawn to her face which is sweet, feminine and tender. I felt that Sophie had a lot to say through her bodybuilding practice – it is, or at the time was, a reconstruction of herself in both an allegorical and a physical sense.”
Sophie embodies many of the qualities that the photographer seeks to convey through her work: the architectural nature of the bodybuilder’s form encapsulates both the subject and object dynamic that so intrigues Vivier, while simultaneously blurring the boundaries between preconceived notions of femininity and masculinity. “I felt that by reshaping herself with a very intimate, strong and personal motivation to feel good and comfortable with her own image, Sophie was reshaping the criteria of what the feminine body is supposed to be.”
It was this sentiment that drove Vivier to reconnect with Sophie a year ago and invite her to collaborate on Body. Her decision to depict her model as an array of different characters, meanwhile, stemmed from the various aspects of “womanhood and society” that Vivier felt existed within Sophie. “Each photo session with Sophie was conceived almost like a film with a specific character demonstrating different facets of her. I wanted to play with the archetypes of femininity and social behaviours as well as the codes of bodybuilding. The idea was to create a picture with a lot of dramaturgy, where the artifice reveals the truth in a way. In the photographs, Sophie’s body is like a stage for expressing a range of different feelings, but it is always her.”
The result is a series of around 50 images, 18 of which will be on display in the show, with a larger edit being released as a photo book later in the year. Some are rendered in sumptuous colour, others a silvery monochrome evocative of Robert Mapplethorpe’s seminal images of bodybuilder Lisa Lyons – one of Vivier’s references for the project. In one portrait, Sophie stands with her back to the camera, her buttocks angled towards the viewer in a statuesque manner. She clasps a hula hoop firmly in her left hand, her biceps proudly on display, while her long hair tumbles delicately down her back mirroring the drapery against which she stands. In another pair of photographs, in colour, she stands against a blue background that accentuates the red of her enhanced lips, her eyes covered by a sheer blindfold. Her musculature is enhanced by her posture which sees her arms crossed over her chest; she looks part superhero, part movie star. “I was partially inspired by Italian singers like Mina and Anna Thomson,” Vivier explains, “these kind of ‘divas’ or women overplaying their femininity with a lot of fragility too.” And indeed, the images’ spellbinding allure lies in the myriad qualities that they possess. They are, like their subject, both sensual and potent: a celebration of softness and strength, both inner and outer, and the ways in which this can coexist within a female body in ways that defy expectation.
Body is at Galerie für Moderne Fotografie, Berlin, from April 26 – July 31, 2019.