This beautiful book was gifted to me by my partner. He knows me well.
Bettina Rheims / Serge Bramly
152 pages, 85 color plates
It was snowing on Paris when a well-dressed, gaunt old gentleman with pale skin entered a photography studio in the sixth arrondissement…
Monsieur X., the said gentleman, hands the manager his legacy that is to remain anonymous for all times- erotic nude photographs of women taken in hotel rooms, unequivocal evidence of the secret double life he leads behind closed doors. Monsieur X. is a perfectly discrete voyeur, an old school seducer, an amateur in the original sense. Not only does he have a good education and money, but a professional photographer’s equipment- and an obsessive curiosity for the female body.
The artistic collaboration of photographer Bettina Rheims and author and art critic Serge Bramly began in 1991 with Chambre Close and continues until today. Every one of their joint projects caused a stir and provoked heated debates, like I.N.R.I (1997/98). This edition of Chambre Close, in which we are publishing the complete series of photographs for the first time, is particularly interesting because of the contrast between text and pictures. Juxtaposed to the cultivated literary tone of Monsieur X.’s fictitious “avowal” are photographs which speak a much clearer language. Bettina Rheims, who produced her first photo series in color with Chambre Close, is fluent in this language, telling stories of female eroticism and female exhibitionism unlike anyone else.
Apart from my love of strongly composed square images, the tone of Rheims’s work is kind of decadent in its color saturation and in the (effortless) tension/ harmony play in her photographs.
She works with a mix of body language and props to weave the compositional tone of her images. In both the below and above images (if not in them all) one can really see how she works with space, form and sexuality.
From the first pages of the book:
It could go either way. In real life our dreams turn out to be two-sided and contradictory. While one part of us aspires to tranquility, another thirsts for torment. There are two voices speaking at the same time, and the fainter one has just as much of a hold. When one has drowned out the other, and its dominance seems assured, the other is cunningly biding its time, ready to spit venom.
In my case, it all began with a moment of desperation, midway through my life, when I was least expecting it. I had worked so hard and well to eliminate friction in the belief that I was acting for the common good, for the benefit of my friends, my family and myself- and, insofar to the best of my ability, for the cause of social progress- and that my days would follow a perfectly smooth course to what was already looking like happiness.
Such a belief made it easy to bear the bumps still strewn across my path, the uncertainties that occasionally snagged my comfort. I considered them ephemeral. I waited. For me, the present was like a transit lounge. Soon, a hostess would be announcing the flight that was going to whisk me to the islands of felicity, as the fulfillment of a moderate and hard-working life. I was staking the best part of my days on a winning tomorrow. Even if the future was slow in coming, the word dissatisfaction never entered my vocabulary.
But then the other voice whispered in my ear.
The book reads like a memoir of fictitious author Monsieur X., who invites and pays women to undress for him in hotel rooms. Bettina’s accompanying images illustrate his supposed experiences and resulting photoshoots.
The models cast for the project are so varied, not just for body type but also for age and race, this makes them even more believably part of his storyline.
There are elements of her work which remind me of Helmut Newton’s approach to photographing women. I think its in the strength their models exude and the way they both obtain alluring body language and poses.