Paris Match

No. 226

No. 273

No. 313

No. 360

No. 389

No. 394

No. 413

No. 415

No. 501

No. 555

No. 582

No. 583

This series of artworks exposes the polemic relationship between fantasy and reality. Here Paris Match presents a two-fold fabrication to the onlooker - with the glossy facade of the cinematic, overlaying the inner reality of the everyday.

The span of material, from which this body of work is fashioned, covers a vibrant period of cultural change. Europe had finally shaken off its post-war rags, now introducing the world to better times - via La Dolce Vita, the advent of technicolour, and the chic portals of Nouvelle Vague.

We see Paris Match embodied via leading femme fatales film stars of this time (Marilyn Monroe, Grace Kelly, Sophia Loren, Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor, Ingrid Bergman, Jean Seberg, Marlene Dietrich & Brigitte Bardot; 1953-1960), each framed within a moment - a photograph telling a story to the discerning audience of Parisian society. Intertwined with these celluloid tableaux is a counterpoint; a world of Brylcream, teeth cleaners, dandruff control, 'Elaslip' underwear, shoe polish, face powders, washing machines, record players, and critically, film cameras. This last feature is reinforced as a recurrent malevolent force - visualised through every-present eavesdropping; sideways glances; the cyclopic detachment of a box camera. One commodity juxtaposed with another; and a question of desire.

The panels of Paris Match present a prophetic glance to our present, and the image-hungry media vultures of the modern era, where cameras present a bifold function. In some hands they create an escapist fantasy world; the new wave realism of film directors Michelangelo Antonioni, Federico Fellini, Jean-Luc Godard, François Truffaut, Otto Preminger, Alfred Hitchcock and Orson Welles. And in others, a voyeuristic lust for exposure; the celebrity-hunting snappers; exemplified by Walter Santesso's character in Fellini's movie La Dolce Vita - who went by the name of Paparazzo.

Each of the artworks which encompass this series features an original Paris Match front cover. They are numbered. And time specific. Like frames from the silver screen, each carries the spectre of a film director, manipulating his muse within the machinations of the PR machine; the unseen contract, and the never ending pursuit of the next biggest thing. Artwork No.501 declares Sophia Loren as 'Un nouveau personnage'. In No.313 she is 'La Rivale de Gina [Lollobrigida]' taking on a 'rôle refuse´ par G. Lollobrigida'. No.360 presents Audrey Hepburn with 'La mode nouvelle'.

This continual cycle of faces, heralds the commodification of the leading lady, and the mirage of the ingenue. Here, mapping the birth of a sexual revolution, these fantasy figures are depicted as truncated sculptures; cropped visions, reduced to basic shapes - hair, neck, eyes, and a mouth. Taking this cue, and as homage to American Pop Artist Tom Wesselmann, the eyes and lips of the twelve subjects of Paris Match are deliberately isolated; elevated from the surrounding landscape. In 2010, Wesselmann's 1966 painting Mouth #8 sold at auction for $1,874,500. "I chose to do a huge cutout mouth in order to isolate and make more intense the one body part that has a high degree of both sexual and expressive connotations," said Wesselmann, whose Mouth series included Study for Marilyn’s Mouth, 1967 - the ghost of which we see in No.226.

This transition from magazine cover to silver screen, and the journey from innocence to the back cover is a short and turbulent event, best illustrated in No.582. And the phenomenon which came to be known as BB.

In 1949, Russian born Roger Vadim was an apprentice film director, and part-time writer for Paris-Match. Whilst baby-sitting for friends he was asked to create a paper plane. Intending to tear a page from the May 2, 1949, issue of Elle Magazine he stopped, his gaze falling on 14-year-old Brigitte Anne-Marie Bardot. And so began an obsessive pursuit of the "ideal young French girl". They married in 1952. Vadim was 26. Bardot only 17. Vadim would go on to launch the movie career of his then-wife, in his directorial debut - the 1956 classic And God Created Woman -  considered by many the first work of the french new wave. They divorced in 1957.

The ephemeral nature of the magazine front cover mirrors society's fickle desire for escapist idolisation. Yet, only one page away from shoe polish and face powders, true reality in ultimately inescapable.

View the complete Paris Match series HERE  Artworks can be purchased direct from this page.

17-23 JUNE 2013. 11am-6pm.
Showcase Gallery, 33-35 St Johns Square, London EC1. 
Map link HERE
Nearest Tube is Farringdon.

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A French institution, Paris Match magazine is a fusion of two publications. Its origins go back to 1928, with a sports magazine called Match. Purchased in 1938 by industrialist Jean Provost, this title was to be combined with a newspaper he already owned - Paris-Soir. This vision was delayed with the Occupation. Then on 25 March 1949, Paris Match was launched - as a weekly publication featuring a bold mix of celebrity, fashion, culture and hard news. Winston Churchill was its first cover image. The distinctive red logo has remained more or less unchanged since.

In its early decades Paris Match was often compared to the American magazine Life (1936–72). Throughout the fifties and sixties, French and international events were shown through eye-catching photography and gripping reportage.

The magazine’s slogan is 'Le pods des mots, le choc des photos' [The weight of words, the power of images].

Guillaume Clavières, Director of the Photo Department at Paris Match, sums up the publication thus “Paris Match has been in perpetual movement since 1949, continuously upholding the valuable freedom to say and to show. In the past and now more than ever, unfolding events are treated with intensity and decipher the time. Five million negatives, four million prints and three million slides are held in the Paris Match archives. Revealing these ‘forgotten’ photos brings intimate moments to life; from true fairy tales to dark novelists, from fleeting stars and great legends to the obscure, from royalty to scientists and businessmen who have changed our universe, from politicians and war heroes to the deceased whose life stories become destiny; the protagonists of the human adventure featured throughout the pages of Paris Match now enrich its photographic archives.” [Getty Images]

Legend has it twenty-five-year-old actress Grace Kelly, in Cannes with the launch of Alfred Hitchcock's new movie To Catch a Thief, was introduced to Prince Rainier III of Monaco by a Paris Match reporter, eager to 'spice up' his cover story.
All artwork, text and images © James Straffon 2024.