Bettina Rheims

By Schwabsky, Barry | Artforum International, Summer 1996 | Go to article overview

Bettina Rheims


Schwabsky, Barry, Artforum International


Eschewing any pretense to critique - in contrast to those photographers who've attempted to bracket out fashion's starstruck vision to pursue subtexts revealed in the grainy, often black-and-white imagery of the stealthy, oblique shot - Bettina Rheims embraces the convergence between fashion/celebrity photography and art. In most fashion photographs, we are meant to see past an unnamed model's personal identity to the characteristics she is supposed to embody in projecting an image suitable to a particular fashion line. On the other hand, fashion models are increasingly becoming celebrities, who are often made the subjects of biographical photo-essays. Yet, even though Rheims' models are named in the titles of her photographs, we are hardly made to feel that we are being offered any "behind-the-scenes" insight into the real women behind her images. Instead, she makes use of an aura of familiarity - palpable even to those of us who would never recognize their names - along with a brilliantly marshaled visual rhetoric, to expand their "representative" status into a mythos of women.

Clothes are essential to these incarnations. Claire Stansfield's dress seems to pour down her body like a transparent, viscous fluid, causing her to resemble some Ovidian maiden being transformed into a river. A pattern of red and yellow flowers floats across her liquescent flesh as across the surface of a pond. The gold sheath worn by Rose McGowan endows her body with the radiance of a Byzantine icon, an aura so strong that there is no need for a hieratic pose to stress it. The most inexplicable naturalistic details serve only to amplify the mystery: Why in the world is she stretched to tiptoes? …

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