Valérie Belin

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Internationally renowned and critically respected, Valérie Belin (born 1964) is perhaps the most celebrated French photographer working today. Her monumental works explore issues of surface, identity and artificiality. In her photographs Belin utilises the human form as a powerful vessel to project or subvert meaning, with the questioning of reality a central thread that weaves throughout her oeuvre.

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Early Career

Valérie Belin was born in 1964 in Boulogne-Billancourt, France. She trained in fine arts at the École Nationale des Beaux-Arts in Bourges from 1983 to 1988, before studying the philosophy of art at the Université Panthéon-Sorbonne in Paris.

In 1987, while still a student, Belin made experimental and abstracted photographs of direct light sources, including neon light strips. Her first photographic series dealt with what Belin refers to as “the matter of things”; black and white images of crystal carafes, Murano-glass mirrors and other objects chosen for their particular luminescent qualities. Other early series by Belin used objects to investigate the echo of human presence; carcasses of wrecked cars and discarded bridal dresses.

Belin has worked strictly in series throughout her career. It is through her series that she is able to explore aspects of clichés and stereotypes. Each of her series contains individual images that closely mirror each other while offering subtle variations. Belin’s series appear methodical and systematic, and an absolute frontality of the viewpoint remains a constant in all of her works.

Recent Work

Belin began to photograph the human form in 1999, with her series Bodybuilders. Belin photographed these figures, oversized muscles glistening, isolated against stark white backgrounds. These men and women were driven by their desire to transform themselves, and through Belin’s lens they are indeed transformed. In this series they are indeed transformed into sculptural, monumental objects.

Belin’s work has often returned to the depiction of the human form at transformative moments. She has not only photographed bodybuilders, but also brides and trans women. The passport-style portraits of her series Transsexuals reveal every minute detail in the face of their subjects. Belin removes all trace of context or narrative from these images, presenting a typology of surface details. Despite this fascination with surface, Belin’s series is truly an examination of the frontiers of identity and gender, presenting the faces of those longing to be “other.”

In her photographs, Belin utilises the human form as a powerful vessel to project or subvert meaning. She has photographed mannequins and models on equal terms, with the questioning of reality a central thread that weaves throughout her oeuvre. Belin’s 2003 series, Mannequins, is perhaps her most well-known. The works documented a series of shop-window mannequins that had been cast directly from human models. It was the perfect and life-like nature of the mannequins that drew the artist to photograph them. Belin’s portraits of mannequins aim to imbue life into something inanimate. The recurring theme of constructed or idealised beauty in Belin’s work addresses issues of reality and fiction within the photographic image. In 2006, Belin began to use colour in her works, and gradually experimented with various digital manipulations. Her series Super Models (2015) revisits the very same life-like mannequins of her 2003 series, this time superimposing abstracted, digital shapes over the graceful plastic bodies. Belin appropriated ready-made patterns found on the Internet, which she subsequently reworked and fused with her portraits. Belin has stated that she began to use superimposition as a technique in order to “make viewing the image more complex, more disturbing, less immediate, less evident, less univocal.” In 2011 Belin presented a video work as part of an installation in Rio de Janeiro, in which she reprised each of the photographs taken from her series Black Eyed Susan, over which she superimposed a moving video image, accompanied by repetitive electronic music. In 2013 Belin also produced a live performance for the Centre Pompidou, revisiting her 2003 series Michael Jackson.

The 2016 series All Star interweaves photographic portraits with graphic imagery from comic books. Suggestive snippets of text and violent imagery burst through the surface of these portraits to infer the chaotic and agitated state that lies just beneath the calm surface of the subject’s often-vacant faces. Belin revisits and develops the motif of constructed beauty in her most recent series, Painted Ladies, in which each portrait is named after the specific brushes used to paint the model’s faces and the equivalent digital retouching tools used by Belin in post-production. The resulting imagery not only explores the relationship between painting and photography, but also the manipulation of both image and viewer. The Painted Ladies series, in particular, highlights society’s increasing acceptance of edited realities as fact. Belin here executes an exaggerated performance of the very processes that drive our modern, technology and image filled world.

Exhibitions and Awards

Belin’s work has been exhibited at the Museum of Art, New York; Museum of Photography, Amsterdam; the Mori Art Museum, Tokyo, and was the focus of a major retrospective at the Centre Pompidou, Paris in 2015. Her work is housed in the collections of many notable institutions, including the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Musée d’art Modern de la ville de Paris and Kunsthaus Zürich. She was awarded the sixth annual Prix Pictet in 2015 for her work exploring the theme of disorder. Belin lives and works in Paris.

Valérie Belin Studio Visit

Related

Notes, News and Press

20th Jul 2018

The New York Times: Valérie Belin celebrated at 10th anniversary of the Prix Pictet

Valérie Belin celebrated at Les Rencontres de la Photographie, Arles

Valérie Belin’s work featured in Circle Cité Luxembourg’s ‘Flux Feelings’ exhibition