Muse flash: Vincent Ferrané gets up close and personal with Parisian model Jeanne Damas

Muse flash: Vincent Ferrané gets up close and personal with Parisian model Jeanne Damas

The French photographer explores the myth and mystique of female icons in contemporary culture for a new book

Vincent Ferrané first met model Jeanne Damas through mutual friends during Les Recontres d’Arles in 2015 – back then, the French fashion influencer was still relatively unknown. Still, the photographer was fascinated by the persona he observed her constructing for a virtual audience over the course of the festival. The Parisian It girl is now the subject of Ferrané’s latest book project, Iconography: XXV Figures of Jeanne Damas, a series of intimate portraits and personal curios in a pared-back moodboard of her daily life.

‘I wanted to create a series that looked like an investigation – something close to a document, or a quest for proof,’ Ferrané tells us, explaining he’s documented fragments of Damas that ‘a fan might collect’. The photographer mined Damas’ Instagram feed, methodically extracting her poses and objects before inviting her to recreate them in front of his lens. ‘[Her fans] could search for her destiny in the lines of her hand, or keep as a relic the traces of lipstick on her cigarette butts. How can a collection of images express these desires?’

Damas gets into character against a neutral backdrop; rendered in black and white, the images sever their connection to the typically glossy and colourful qualities of fashion editorials. ‘These images seem inspired by a long history of the representation of women forged by what ones called the codes of patriarchy.’ To wit, Ferrané’s wide-ranging influences include Renoir’s Odalisque (1870), film noir, the artistic tradition of contrapposto (a type of classical pose), Irving Penn’s close-ups of cigarettes butts, and Walker Evans’ 1955 portfolio for Fortune magazine, Beauty of the Common Tool.

In a climate where the male gaze is under increasing scrutiny, Ferrané’s photographs tread the fine line between reverence and objectification of his female muse. The more intrusive images – detail shots of bare limbs and body parts – seemingly veer towards the latter. Yet, Damas is both subject and creative collaborator, always in strategic control of the image she crafts for her audience and now, Ferrané’s camera. She has, after all, spent years honing and cultivating this persona in the digital sphere.

Ferrané notes the modern appetite for visual culture is more voracious than ever before. ‘Today, we consume more and more images, some by actively searching but mostly passively,’ he notes. ‘What interests me is that the images are never innocuous, they always convey hidden meanings and, with regards to the body, a political dimension, too. Iconography seeks to explain – as much as to question – the elements of a popular representation of feminine beauty.’ §

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