Dear Dominique Issermann,
Black and white and natural light: with your artistic approach, you have revolutionized fashion photography.
At the back of the garden, I aim in my father’s Brownie Flash, I am four years old, I photograph my mother spreading sheets: my first photo,” you tell us. One might think that the photograph was standing there from your childhood, as a traced path. But it is in the cinema, your great passion, that you will first seek yourself. In the agitation of May 68, the hypokhâgne student you are proposing to her teacher a thesis on «Family relationships in the world of Mickey Mouse». Your real classes, you do them on the barricades with Cohn-Bendit and a bunch of friends who take you to Rome. In the Roman adventure, you make your first cinematic experiences, visiting Bernardo Bertolucci, Jean-Marie Straub, Gian-Maria Volonte. You go to film the factory occupations near Rome, and this gives Dell'impossibilità di recitare Elettra oggi. These five wandering years also resulted in a collective work for a film by Jean-Luc Godard, Vent d'Est, two co-productions of feature films with writer and filmmaker Marc'O, and an intact ability to bite the moment with any camera, as you will later on for the songs of Catherine Deneuve, Renaud and Patricia Kaas, or on the eight “mini-fictions” on the album Old Memories by your former companion, Leonard Cohen.
You took your first steps in photojournalism in 1974, during the Carnation Revolution, with cameras loaned by Raymond Depardon and Marie-Laure Decker. The experience for you is inconclusive, and you do not feel comfortable in this exercise. In the end, you prefer the emotion caused by pure physical beauty, far from the too visible determinations of society and history. A bit like the women of Antonioni, who always inspired you: «I love the women of Antonioni: they have no purse, you never know what background they are or where they come from.»
Back in Paris, it’s the phone bills to pay that finally convince you to participate in a fashion photography contest, organized by the magazines Elle, Jardin des modes and Zoom. You put your brother down with a pretty girl he so wanted to meet in a CCC raincoat. Hands down, you’re distinguished.
A pillar of the film library, you begin to make portraits of actresses and actors who barely discover celebrity. Their names are Isabelle Adjani or Gérard Depardieu. Catherine Deneuve, Simone Signoret, Yves Montand, Jeanne Moreau, Fanny Ardant, Serge Gainsbourg, Jane Birkin, Robert de Niro, Anouk Aimée, Lawrence Olivier, Isabella Rossellini, Françoise Sagan, Marguerite Duras, Balthus… The list is so long.
It was Sonia Rykiel who opened the doors of fashion for you. After a few questions, she leaves you carte blanche for 18 pages to shoot for the American Vogue. Your idea of the woman, embodied by Anne Rohart, model-muse for whom you will dedicate a complete work, poses haughty in a black and white universe, the shadow telling the curve, pleases both the designer and, hand in hand and for more than ten years, you shape with her the now famous image of the «Rykiel woman». Your portrait of Sonia, cigarette in hand, dressed by the shadow alone, shows your complicity.
You also collaborate for many years with Chanel, Dior, Yves Saint Laurent, Hermès, Nina Ricci and La Perla, including Esquire, Elle and Vogue magazines. In 1988, you were awarded the Oscar for Fashion Photography for your book on Anne Rohart.
For the first and last time in his career, you’re filming Bob Dylan going through a Victoria’s Secret underwear commercial, attracted by a Venetian angel. A cast of beauties, such as Carole Bouquet, Anna Mougladis, Natalia Vodianova or Kate Moss, is offered to you for the advertising campaigns of these great brands, giving rise to portraits of unparalleled elegance. You who sign the now «vintage» campaign of Eau Sauvage by Christian Dior, or more recently the oriental journey of Audrey Tautou with her Number 5 by Chanel, you resist the temptation of the trash clichés of the 1990s
staging models surrounded and thinner, shocked that suffering can be the object of a game.
These hundreds of images of women reveal the idea of an infinite freedom where models entrust you with the immediate and voluptuous intimacy of impassive Madonnas. I like to capture in women pride and mystery, something Sicilian in this thing of always raising your head, no matter what. This Devil’s Side at Rest», report. Antonioni still, suspended photos, no accessories, no explanation; pure beauty and natural light.
Today we can admire at the European House of Photography the remarkable work that you carried out in Switzerland with Laetitia Casta: thirty clean shots, apologies for the sensual in a raw architecture and water designed by Peter Zumthor, at the baths of Vals.
“You don’t wear out a face. People are just becoming, from one moment to the next they’re already someone else,” you point out. You are the artist-photographer who contributed to the rediscovery of a universal feminine.
Dear Dominique Issermann, on behalf of the President of the Republic, we make you a Knight of the National Order of Merit.