There are few photographers these days who should be described as definitive in their field: Fernand Fonssagrives, however, can undoubtedly be described as one of them. Revered as one of the earliest and greatest practitioners of 'beauty photography' in the 1940's, Fonssagrives sadly passed away in April of 2003.
His most memorable work traces the unique partnership he had with his first wife, legendary model Lisa Fonssagrives (originally a dancer and the love of Fernand's youth, who then went on to marry Irving Penn). Lisa was in fact responsible for Fonssagrives picking up a camera - she gave him a Rollieflex, after his own dance career ended due to a diving injury; "It became," he said, "part of my body."
Born in 1910 to a sculptor father and a musician mother, they encouraged Fonssagrives to do the things he most loved: science, art, sports, gymnastics and dance. He moved to America at the age of 18 to continue his studies of dance, and returned to Europe at the age of 21 for military service. After that, he joined a German dance company, where he met the young Swedish dancer Lisa Bergstrom who became his dance partner and then his wife.
Fernand and Lisa spent two years roaming Europe, supported by selling his photographs of her to over 50 European publications. Lisa had an uninhibited and strikingly carefree style of expression which rapidly became in demand by editors, and defined the natural, effortless beauty which has become the mainstay of health and beauty photography as we know it today. Lisa’s elegant, sculptural form was constant inspiration to Fonssagrives whether he photographed her cavorting in the open air, or in a studio, experimentally draped in shadows to define contours of the human body. When World War II forced them to return to New York, they were catapulted into separate but highly successful careers.
Unfortunately, their careers diverged and the marriage ended; Lisa was the epitome of fashion, and though Fonssagrives worked for the cream of the magazine industry such as Vogue, Harpers' Bazaar and Town & Country, he began to hate fashion and the commercialization of his work. To regain his creative freedom after becoming disillusioned with advertising photography, he moved to Spain, taught himself to sculpt, and regained his creative independence.
Returning to New York after two years, his sculptures sold almost immediately, He also married the ice skater Dianne Capron. When his second child Marc was born, they moved to Little Rock, Arkansas. Again, his marriage did not survive the move; Fonssagrives said, "She was 32 years younger than I; she needed a life of her own. Plus, I am impossible to live with. I’m such a bohemian, and Lisa and Dianne both wanted security."
Though he never became a US citizen, he remained in Little Rock to raise Marc and supported his small family with the proceeds of photographs he had made decades before, along with sculpture and painting.
The endorsement of Fonssagrives' parents had a profound and lasting effect, and he always strove to embody his own personal philosophy throughout his life: "My objective was to try to understand what life was all about and to be free. And there's no place you can do that but in America. This is why I am here – this passion to be an individual. It is possible in America, despite all these miserable trends. But you have to buck the system at times." His remarkable, exuberant style of photography is an uncompromising testament to a man who truly lived his dreams in the pursuit of happiness, beauty and freedom. He captured them all, on camera.
Born in Paris, France in 1910
Died in Little Rock, Akansas in 2003
The Design Laboratory, New York, NY
Light Perspectives, Benrubi Gallery, New York, NY
Hot Fun in the Summertime, Bonni Benrubi Gallery, New York, NY
Fashion, Michael Hoppen Gallery, London, England
20/30 Vision: An Anniversary Celebration, Bonni Benrubi Gallery, New York, NY
An Eye for Beauty; Fernand Fonssagrives, Bonni Benrubi Gallery, New York, NY
An Eye For Beauty, Michael Hoppen Gallery, London, United Kingdom
Town & Country
Hot Events: Paris Photo; Hotshoe
An Eye For Beauty; Fernand Fonssagrives