BOOK REVIEW: Pierre et Gilles “Autobiographie en Photomatons (1968-88)” (Bazar Editions)

French artists Pierre and Gilles first met in 1976, and since that time their partnership has been acclaimed by leading museums and the international contemporary art scene. Pierre and Gilles have created unique hand-painted photographic portraits of film icons and celebrities, mythological figures, sailors and unknown individuals alike. They have established a distinctive visual world drawing on popular imagery, religion and eroticism. Jeff Koons has said about them, “It’s hard to think of contemporary culture without the influence of Pierre and Gilles, from advertising to fashion photography, music video, and film. This is truly global art.”

Less well known than their portrait work, Pierre and Gilles have compiled an extensive private collection of photo booth pictures (over 10,000 photos) which has become the source of their autobiography in pictures. More than 40 years before Facebook was created, Gilles Blanchard created a personal diary by taking photo booth pictures and commenting each photo with a caption. Taken as a whole, this effort constitutes an original work that is both exceptional and unique, and a document of major importance, the type of which has not been seen since the days of Andy Warhol’s photo booth pictures.

In artistic terms, the book reveals the duo’s taste for portraiture as well as the importance of form and context in their work. And it places the issue of color at the heart of their approach as artists. This amazing collection of photo booth pictures shows the birth of their relationship/collaboration, and the development of their aesthetic values (femmes fatales, sexy boys, and popular singers).

From a sociological and documentary perspective, photo booth pictures reveal the birth of the younger scene of artists and fashion designers of the 1970s in Paris (Annette Messager, Kenzo, Adeline André, Christian Louboutin, Marie France…). It also reflects the arrival in France of the punk movement, the homosexual liberation, the opening of the mythical Parisian discotheque nightclub “Le Palace”, the frenzied world of nightlife, glamour, and magazines. The underground is repositioned in a universal context, either by political events or simply by the eruption of popular culture.

Finally, the work draws literary value from the unique sentimental power that emerges: ultimately it is a family story (the Blanchard family of Le Havre), the story of a shy young man (Gilles) and construction of his life since his arrival in Paris, like the ascension of a Balzac romantic hero in modern times. It’s also a great love story between Gilles Blanchard and Pierre Commoy. It’s finally the story of a happy band on the road to success, a group of close friends whose destinies in many cases have been exceptional

The main interest of this autobiography, besides the fact that it is published in a sumptuous deluxe edition, is that it describes the story of a generation and a community, the history of the transformation of a society and a couple of artists. For the first time, we discover an intimate look at the real Pierre Commoy and Gilles Blanchard, the two individuals behind

the world-famous moniker of Pierre and Gilles. The leading stars of fashion, art and the underground all passed through the photo booth for Pierre and Gilles. When the last page is read, I am sure you will have but one desire: to imitate them and make your own portrait in a photo booth around the corner, but in an original and fun way, in the manner of Pierre and Gilles, of course!

Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Fabien MacRa

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