Brigitte Lacombe does not bark directions from behind her viewfinder. She sits down with her subjects beforehand, and, in an accent thick as bouillabaisse, tries to have a chat: ”I just ask them to be direct.” Honesty follows from directness. Touching moments, she says, follow from honesty.
Lacombe is also unmoved by complicated props and grandiose schemes. ”The situation I create is devoid of production values,” says the forty-something artist. ”I try to make it as bare as possible so it’s about them as them. And that’s it.”
And while she knows how to handle a group shot, she says she’s not so interested: ”I prefer the one-on-one encounter.”
And don’t you? That illusion of piercing intimacy is the strength of Lacombe’s portraiture. You would call the pictures stark if they weren’t so sumptuous. Flip through these pages — or through the new monograph Lacombe: Cinema/Theater (Schirmer/Mosel) — and see stars stripped of the signifiers of stardom, looking all the more radiant for it.
Perhaps this naturalness owes to the origins of Lacombe’s career. At 17, the native Parisian left school and began to snap pictures. Her introduction to show business was serendipitous: ”I was sent to the Cannes Film Festival in ’75. Sent without great expectations, I think, because I was not so experienced. But it was a different time, when people in movies were more accessible than they are now. And also I was fearless. I was ready to think everything was possible.”
And that’s it.