Sylvie Blum: Natural Beauty

DPP: So you learned from the ground up. When did you start defining your eye and your style?

Blum: For all the years with Guenter, I always had my vision of doing things, but there wasn’t much time for me to shoot. I was so involved with his work—managing, modeling, creating exhibitions and doing book projects—as well as still doing other modeling jobs. I started to work on my own photography in the late 1990s.

DPP: That was after Guenter passed?

Blum: After he died, it was a really rough time. I thought I had to get some distance from photography. I put an announcement in the newspaper to sell all the camera equipment. People came into our studio that was in an old factory in Frankfurt, but I couldn’t sell anything. I said to all these people, "Please, go." They thought I was totally weird. That evening, I took the self-portrait that’s on my wall now as a reminder of that time. I decided I was going to be a photographer. The spirit of Guenter Blum would live through my work.

DPP: Yet the nudes you create, even from the beginning, have a very different look.

Blum: I’ve always had a different vision. This was a time when I was still being booked for modeling jobs. I didn’t feel the same in front of the camera anymore. Something changed. I bought an old Polaroid SX-70 camera and photographed myself, and these blurry, crazy self-portraits became my first book and first exhibition.

DPP: It sounds like they reflected the turmoil you were going through at that time.

Blum: Absolutely. It was a very painful time. Guenter and I were a close team, and when he died everything turned around. It took me a while to become a normal person again. As I did, my very clean style developed. Taking a picture, for me, is preserving a moment. Nobody can ever take it from you. It’s there forever. If you do a good picture, it will last. It will stand the test of time. I wanted to grow and do something new, so I sold our studio in the city and moved to the countryside and bought another factory and turned it into a studio. It’s very romantic and very cool, but if you want to become successful, if you want to get all those good people to work with—models, hair, makeup—it’s difficult.

DPP: What brought you to the U.S.?

Blum: I first moved to Portland, Oregon, in 2005 with my second husband because of his job. In 2007, I rented a studio in downtown L.A. and flew back and forth. I like the light in Los Angeles, as well as the attitude here and the models. There’s an influx of so many models with so many different looks. I’m like a spider—in the web, I catch these beautiful models to work with.

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