1972 Pirelli Calendar by Sarah Moon.
For Sarah Moon, there is magic in image making. If she’s lucky, illusion takes flight as she presses the shutter button. “Illusion [is] like the chimera,” she tells Magali Jauffret in the grand compendium of her work, 1,2,3,4,5; “that strange alchemy between desire and chance.”
In a momentary flirtation with the unknown, a serendipitous seduction, the French photographer and filmmaker takes the reality of the scene before her – a woman in a dress, a poppy, a bird or a Paris streetscape – and renders it otherworldly and extraordinary. And while her images seem filtered through the rose-tinted lens of a lover’s gaze, always soft focus, her unique brand of romance speaks also to the word’s other definition: that intoxicating but indistinct feeling of mystery, excitement and remoteness from the everyday that we all covet sometimes.
“I escape through photography. I never know where I’m heading for, all I know is that there the sun goes down before it rises, just in time for my shadow to stretch and dusk to fall.” – Sarah Moon, 1,2,3,4,5
Moon’s photographic journey began in the late 60s after several years spent modelling in Europe, where she would work with some of the greats: Irving Penn, Helmut Newton and Guy Bourdin, to name a few. She began experimenting with a camera and her own style – a dreamy departure from the bold linearity of her male precursors – when designer Jean Bousquet called on her to create the romantic universe for which his brand Cacharel would become known. Early collaborations with Cacharel, Biba and Nova magazine (all trailblazing tear-ups of the status quo in their own right), would set an auspicious precedent: in 1972 Moon became the first woman to shoot the Pirelli Calendar.
“She liked it when models got so tired and passive from waiting so long for a shoot to take place. That was when she would start to take pictures.”
– Caroline Baker
In the decades since her debut she has shot campaigns for the likes of Chanel, Christian Lacroix, Dior, Comme des Garçons, Issey Miyake, Valentino and Yohji Yamamoto, while her fashion stories have appeared in publications the world over – from Vogue to Visionaire. Aussie model Codie Young from Priscillas – also a painter and poet who has worked with Moon many times over the past four years – describes photographs that “belong to a world of their own”; the characters she creates “so mysterious that you long to know the story behind the person in the image”.