Sophie Bassouls, born in June of 1936 in Neuilly-sur-Seine, is a French photographer who has notably served as photography director for L’Express and the literary section of Figaro, as well as covering literary current events for Sygma Agency. Over the course of the years, she has built up an extremely rich collection of writer and artist portraits.
orn June 9th 1936 in Neuilly-sur-Seine, Sophie Bassouls is the daughter of François Daniélou, himself son of Charles Daniélou (1878-1953), poet and politician, and Madeleine Clamorgan (1880-1956), founder of a group of private schools for young girls.
As a child, she was raised by her grand-mother, who wanted “to encourage intelligence above all”, giving her a taste for books and writing, though within certain limits: by throwing Jean Genet’s Querelle de Brest in the furnace of the Collège Sainte-Marie without even reading it, she inspired a furious desire in her granddaughter to discover Genet…
Her first contact with photography came through the exhibition The Family of Man just after the war, which presented a vast photographic inventory of human life in more than 60 countries taken in a humanist perspective by the greatest photographers of the age (Bill Brandt, David Seymour, Cartier-Bresson, Capa, etc.).
A range of studies followed, first in an English school -where she learned Italian…-, then at the University of Florence where she studied art history before making her way to the United States to study American literature and meet Claude Bassouls, her future husband, with whom she would have two children, Élie and Julien.
Portraits of Writers
Back in France, she joined L’Express in 1957 and by chance took over direction of the picture desk.
In 1963, she became director of photography at the literary section of Le Figaro
. There, she met Jean Chalon, who asked her to provide photos to accompany his series of stories on writers: a start in the photographic profession. She continued this work for the literary section of Figaro thanks to Pierre-Jean Jouve who didn’t want anyone but women to photograph him.
Leaving Figaro in 1976 to work freelance, she wrote to Witold Gombrowicz, who agreed to be photographed by her, confirming that great writers are not inaccessible. What follows is a long series of writers’ portraits, which became her specialty. Today, this collection has grown to tens of thousands of photos of about 3500 writers, an entire generation of authors from around the world.
In 1980, she began an independent agency with her husband and several young photographers: Rush, inspired by the Magnum agency. In 1986, she joined the Sygma agency, where she was in charge of literary current events for 18 years. In 2003, the agency was bought by Corbis
. Since then, Sophie Bassouls works freelance.
Not fond of close-ups, she chooses décor, objects, and poses carefully, in agreement with the writers themselves, keeping everything in harmony with their own universe, creating a complete scene, the distinguishing feature of her work. She has stayed faithful to black and white photography even after the widespread use of color, believing that the art of photography is subtractive, without sound, without movement, without color, revealing something that has never been seen.
Exhibitions and publications
Among numerous exhibitions of her work, her show at the Historic Library in Paris in 2001 resulted in the publication of the book Écrivains (Writers), released by Flammarion, which collects 550 portraits of writers.
Today, her work uses mixed techniques (montage, painting, gold leaf) mixed with digital techniques such as retouching, conversion, and replication of images, revolving around new themes: explorations of cities and human bodies. She often collaborates with Area review, publishing portraits of artists and celebrities in each edition.