Beneath the facade

Updated: 2016-07-16 02:40

By ZHANG KUN in Shanghai(China Daily USA)

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Beneath the facade

Brigitte Lacombe speaks during her exhibition at the Shanghai Center of Photography. The exhibition will run till August 28. photos provided to china daily

“Everybody wanted to be in New York. They wanted to accomplish something. There was a lot of competition and people there had big ambitions and worked with great focus and discipline,” recalled Lacombe of the unique charm of the city in the 1970s and 80s.

In the late 1970s, the photographer worked on the sets of movies directed by Hollywood heavyweights such as Martin Scorsese, David Mamet, Sam Mendes and Quentin Tarantino.

Karen Smith, the curator of the exhibition in Shanghai, said that Lacombe had managed to develop an “unusual proximity in the world of cinema”, and this was evidenced by her exclusive working relationships with some directors.

For decades, Lacombe was the only photographer allowed on the sets of Scorsese’s films. Some of her best work was produced on these sets too, having shot images from Taxi Driver, The Age of Innocence, The Aviator and The Wolf of Wall Street. Some of these photos are on display at the exhibition.

Some of Lacombe’s most iconic pictures were taken during breaks in filming when the camera was not rolling; the surreal space between reality and make-believe where actors look to be in the midst of recovering their real identities.

Frank Rich of the New York Times once wrote about Lacombe’s works, praising them for being able to walk the fine line between these boundaries.

He wrote: “There is art, and there is show business. In a young century overdosing on glossy and voyeuristic celebrity exploitation masquerading as photojournalism, it’s essential to keep the boundary distinct.”

“That is the key to appreciating the photography of Brigitte Lacombe, whose work often takes her into the realm of show business but whose pictures strip the commerce away from the artists until we are face-to-face with what some of the seminal figures of our time are trying to say to their audience.”

One of her most well-loved images is the one of Hong Kong director Wong Kar-wai and actors Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung Chiu-wai during the filming of In the Mood for Love.

In the picture which seems to masterfully fuse elements of peace, theatricality and energy, Wong is seen hiding his gaze behind his signature dark glasses, Cheung is captured with a slight tilt of her head while Leung is wearing an restrained smile and looking straight at the camera.

Lacombe juxtaposed portrait photography with shooting on film sets, saying that the former is a more intimate genre that requires trust. She explained that it takes not one, but two people to produce a good portrait — the subject will need to be comfortable enough to let his or her guard down in front of the photographer. In contrast, film stars are hidden behind a shield of theatrical mystery with their make-up and costumes.