Sylvie Blum: Natural Beauty

Bringing a feminine eye to black-and-white nudes, Blum embraces the classic aesthetic of hard light, clean angles and strong graphic elements. The photographer has worked as a model herself with historic photographers in the art form, including Helmut Newton, Jan Saudek, Andreas Bitesnich and Guenter Blum, who was her husband until he passed away in 1997.

DPP: What equipment are you working with to capture your images?

Blum: I work with a Hasselblad and Hensel flashes in the studio and natural light outside. I love the light in L.A. I have a wall outside my studio, and I always know which part of the wall I’ll use at a given time of the year. In March, the light that hits, it’s harder. It gets softer toward summer. In the morning, with the reflection of the pool, there are all sorts of shadows and cool stuff going on. I observe, then I get a model and create a story.

DPP: Are you using reflectors or lights when you work outside?

Blum: Sometimes I’m using a reflector or two; it depends on the look I’m going for. Heavy shadows can be very effective. Some people say you shouldn’t shoot at noon or 1 p.m. "Oh, you have to shoot early in the morning or golden hour." Sometimes you can’t because you have to schedule in the models. For me, it’s a question of how to position people into a given light. If you’re having difficulty, maybe you have to have the model twist her head or whatever to make it work. Posing and angles are very important in my work. Making a model understand that beauty is nice, but it’s more important to work with your body like a dancer or an athlete in front of the camera and come up with angles that are different and interesting. Some models can twist and do really interesting things with their arms. Or they can bend. From my background in front of the camera, I really know what you can do with posing. The really fascinating models aren’t necessarily the ones that turn heads on the street; these are the models that work their bodies, that work their expressions. They know their angles. This makes a model magic.

DPP: What are you doing in terms of makeup?

Blum: I have the models put Vaseline® on their skin because it reflects the light, it swallows the light, it tunnels the light. It’s pure. But basically, I use no makeup for the nudes. For me, it’s tacky. If you think like the 1920s for a Peter Lindbergh thing, it’s really beautiful. I really like that. Makeup makes a girl sexy and delicious. A male photographer will approach the female body with desire—which is totally cool because this is nature, but it’s a different kind of appreciation. This isn’t what I’m after. I love to create graphic forms with the human body. If a woman or a model is brave enough to take their clothes off, then it’s very luxurious. No dress can come close to what you have naturally.

You can see more of Sylvie Blum’s photography at Her latest book is
Naked Beauty (teNeues), and she’s represented by the Fahey/Klein Gallery in Los Angeles.

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