Isabelle Huppert: “I like to believe that directors appreciate working with me, because I am like their little object”

Isabelle Huppert: “I like to believe that directors appreciate working with me, because I am like their little object”

Interview.- Reunited in Paris, for an exceptional posing session, the hyper-actress and the cult photographer Nan Goldin dialogue in the rules of the art. The gaze of the other, the gift of self, the image behind the image… Two artists without filters.

Yesterday again, Isabelle Huppert was playing The Cherry Orchard on the scene. Around her throat, a carefully tied scarf preserves this familiar voice. Behind her, the soft chaos of an impersonal hotel room. Her hieratic Madonna’s face lights up when, through the magic of technology, the Zoom link finally works and she sees Nan Goldin’s. Sitting at her desk, surrounded by images and sculpted heads, she smokes, taking a long drag on her cigarette, her hair red fire.

Isabelle is in Amsterdam, Nan in New York, but it looks like they are in the same room as their complicity is perceptible between them. The two artists have known each other for years. Ice and fire? On the one hand, Isabelle, the hyperactress capable of anything – playing Chekhov like setting fire to the Cannes red carpet in Balenciaga green jumpsuit. On the other, Nan, cult photographer, icon of the New York underground, who with his intimate and raw shots has, since the 1980s, imposed a new look in photography. “I want to show what my world looks like, without glamour, without glorification,” she writes in the book. The Ballad of Sexual Dependencywhich is also the title of his most famous series of photos, projected with a bang in Arles in 1987. For Madame Figaro, the two idols got caught up in the game of the fashion session, in the cozy setting of the Raphael hotel. A story of women too.

In video, Cannes 2022: the rise of the steps of May 22, with Isabelle Huppert

Miss Figaro. Nan Goldin, you don’t do much fashion photography, why did you agree to photograph Isabelle Huppert?
Nan Goldin.– Clothes don’t interest me. When I photograph fashion, I always forget clothes, I’m a stylist’s nightmare. But I simply adore Isabelle. I have already photographed it in the past, twice. Once at my house and once at hers. Do you remember ? In the living room, and then also on the terrace and in the bedroom… There was also your daughter, Lolita…
Isabella Huppert. –Yes, on the balcony, I remember. I’d love to see those photos you took at my house…
NG- Me too ! They are stored somewhere in my archives… I have over 35,000 images, but luckily I have just hired an excellent archivist to file them all! It’s quite exciting, so many images that I don’t remember are resurfacing, I’m rediscovering things.

Leather jacket and skirt, Alexander McQueen, Majestic Filatures t-shirt. Directed by Agnes Poulle. Nan Goldin

Nan Goldin, you say you only photograph personalities that touch you… How does Isabelle touch you?
NG-I do not believe that it is of the order of the expressible. It’s something deeply emotional, visual, visceral. Of the order of the impalpable, of the air that separates you from the other. If I photograph someone I don’t like, the pictures won’t be good. I need to find a doorway. I fall in love with faces, and I love looking at Isabelle’s. I also love looking at the faces of people I don’t know very well. I often think about the fact that when you know someone very well, you stop looking at them, to really see their face. We talk to each other, but we don’t look at each other anymore… And then, it happens that we start to really look at each other, to see them again. With Isabelle, I am absorbed by her face. I love taking it Photo. And then, Isabelle, you are the most professional of all! In control, independent, you know what you give. But also warm and light. It’s interesting to watch you go from one mode to another…

Crepe dress, Balenciaga. Earrings and ring, Chopard. Directed by Agnes Poulle.
Nan Goldin

Isabelle Huppert, you have been photographed countless times… What is your relationship to this gaze, that of the photographer?
HI- I like it, being photographed. Especially with Nan, because she knows how to create a special atmosphere in which you feel good. We always have a bit of an appointment with ourselves at Nan, the impression of finding ourselves in a form of intimacy. The atmosphere is cheerful and light, but it can also be more melancholic. If the art of photography consists in showing silence, the unspoken, the invisible, Nan does it like no one else. In each of his photos, you are both completely yourself, and the character of a little fiction – it’s powerful. Nan also reveals what is not in the image, a story that is told outside the frame, off-screen… She creates a fiction – for me, that is the hallmark of great photographers. It’s cinematic.

Nan shows thought, people think about her, we don’t know what. But they think

Isabelle Huppert

NG-I really appreciate what you say, thank you. I never think about the story I’m going to tell in my photos. I never arrive with preconceived ideas, there is just the person, the place, and then things evolve in one direction or another… I am resolutely drawn to melancholy. I am also attracted by the inner gaze of those I photograph, their way of having access to themselves, inside themselves. There is no preconceived script, it’s a film without a script…
HI- “A film without a script” could also be the definition of a good film ! In any case, the promise of a nice surprise, a succession of states: sadness, joy… It’s the atmosphere that counts. And yet, when we look at our images, a story emerges. A woman alone stranded in a hotel… Thoughtful, cheerful, she drinks, she thinks, the clothes reveal her. And above all, she thinks. So. Nan shows thought, people think about her, we don’t know what. But they think. This is what makes them terribly human and endearing. All these photos that we have just taken look like Nan, with this somewhat dark atmosphere, this red light, all these mirrors, all these secrets…

Isabelle Huppert, Cover Story by Nan Goldin

Nan Goldin, which Isabelle Huppert film made the biggest impression on you?
NG-A women’s affair, by Claude Chabrol, is the first film I saw with Isabelle. But I have known his work for a long time. Isabelle, we often have to ask you this, but which directors did you prefer to work with?
HI- I don’t have a favorite director, but I had the chance to work with Michael Haneke, Paul Verhoeven, Obviously, Claude Chabrol. I like to believe that directors enjoy working with me, because I’m like their little object. You can move me around as you wish, I don’t ask questions, at least those that you can’t answer. I do my job in my corner… Maybe that’s why I have a good relationship with them! I have the chance to visit powerful universes with them, in which I feel safe, protected. It’s a mixture of absolute confidence and unparalleled pleasure in being watched.

I have the impression that the more time passes, the less I internalize what I do. I do it and I think after

Isabelle Huppert

NG-I always feel like your work comes from deep within you. When you were shooting the movie Shewhich is upsetting, were you moved, did it affect your personal life?
HI-No, not at all, absolutely not, I was just very happy! I don’t know about you, Nan, but I feel like the more time passes, the less I internalize what I do. I do it and I think afterwards. Nah, do you remember your very first photo?
NG-I was 15! I went to a free-school not far from Boston, a hippie thing inspired by Summerhill, the famous self-managed alternative school, founded in the 1920s in England. We didn’t go to class, we spent our day at the movie theater. I had left home, I lived in a kind of community… Our teachers were students from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where the Polaroid had been invented. So they all had Polas, and the first photo I took was a black and white image of my artist friend David Armstrong (died 2014, editor’s note). I then photographed it for forty years. So I became the school photographer. I was very shy, and that gave me a good reason to reach out to others. At the time, it was quite unusual to start so early.
HI- Is that when you decided to become a photographer? Finally, I don’t know if you consider yourself a “photographer”, personally, I don’t really consider myself an “actress”…

I am sensitive to the roles that Isabelle chooses. I often wonder how a person as small as she can express so much violence…

Nan Goldin

NG-I never wanted to be a photographer, I wanted to make films… Since I was 18, I have been making slideshows of images in my installations – which is my way of making my films. The beauty of slideshows is that you can constantly re-edit them, re-edit, a freedom you don’t have when you make a classic feature film. I always do. I also prepare This Will Not End Well, a retrospective made up entirely of slideshows. It will take place next October at the Moderna Museet in Stockholm.

Tweed dress and sandals, Balenciaga. Izipizi glasses, earrings and ring, Chopard. Directed by Agnes Poulle. Photo Nan Goldin

Nan Goldin, what are the images that marked your photographic imagination?
NG- Younger, the works of Diane Arbus, August Sander or Larry Clark, especially portraits. Larry Clark was one of the first to photograph his life, to make a book (Tulsa, Editor’s note). I’m also obsessed with photos of Peter Hujar and David Armstrong.

The body is very present in both of your work…
HI- When Nan photographs you, it is not only the face that is expressed, but the body as well. Not necessarily triumphantly. But not in fragility either… I would say “free”. Her photos are never frozen, they are in motion… Nan is very receptive to small details, which are not really details, such as the placement of the hands. Yesterday I was playing The Cherry Orchard, and there is a long scene at the beginning and end of the play, in which I am motionless. Still, my hands twitch and twist, as if expressing anxiety.
NG-I love your hands! I am attracted to women who are both tough and tender, and these are qualities that I see in her.

Isabelle Huppert has embodied characters crossed by violence, and you, Nan Goldin, your photos are sometimes too…
NG-I am extremely sensitive to the roles that Isabelle chooses. I often wonder how a person as small as she can express so much violence…
HI-I don’t see any violence in Nan’s photos, rather loneliness and a lot of sweetness. An overwhelming sweetness. As in these images, taken from the film variety, exhibited in Paris, this girl alone at the checkout of a porn cinema… At Nan, there is always this feeling of loneliness, as in a novel by Jean Rhys, but which is not necessarily linked to sadness. You can be alone without being sad. Me, I like to be alone from time to time. Nan manages to convey the feeling one experiences when one is in complete harmony with the space around us.

“Variety” exhibition, by Nan Goldin, until July 3 at the Galerie Paris Cinéma Club.

Isabelle Huppert at the cinema in About Joan, by Laurent Larivière, released on September 14.


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