As a woman in torn fishnets vigorously grasps her own ample buttocks, it’s hard to imagine the viewer’s gaze moving past her firm yet voluptuous form. But the black-and-white image also draws the eye to the texture of her stockings, illuminating the fragile diamond-shaped knit in stark contrast with a waffle-shaped wall vent, muted by the lens’s focus on the light bouncing off the woman’s muscular gams.
Fishnet (2007) is a playful and innocent depiction compared with the never-before-seen Bomb (1999), among the 16 works comprising Guy Le Baube: Behind The Scenes on display at Avant Gallery‘s newest location in Hudson Yards until Aug. 25. Her face out of frame, her pert breasts exposed as a black coat dangles from her shoulders, a woman boasts an odd arsenal in her otherwise modest white panties. It’s tough to look away from Bomb, even among an array of such provocative images.
Flirting with the term bombshell, describing an extremely attractive woman, Bomb is shrouded in mystery.
“There’s a story here, and I’ve been advised not to tell the truth about this picture,” Le Baube teased. “What I can say is this is a play on the joke that I can’t stop writing. (Based on) ideas and sketches I walk with, and sometimes I bumped into.”
Asked which photographs are his favorites, Le Baube says it’s impossible to choose, “like when you have many children.”
“I have chosen a subject that is really original,” he adds. “None of those pictures were taken before.”
Born in France in 1944, Le Baube transformed from Parisian to New Yorker immediately upon moving to the United States in 1976. Dmitry Prut, president and founder of Avant Gallery, describes how Le Baube acclimated immediately to his new home, wandering into a party with the likes Andy Warhol and Yoko Ono and blending seamlessly into New York’s most flamboyant and gritty era.
“I’m a New York photographer,” Le Baube proclaims. “I started photographing (professionally) in 1969. You change because you have to survive in commercial photography which is very competitive.”
A contemporary of Helmut Newton and Patrick Demarchelier, Le Baube’s minimal compositions, celebrating the power and playfulness of women’s bodies in various precarious and irrepressible poses and scenarios, are shot in 35mm film and evoke a luscious era lost in the digital age.
For more than 30 years, Le Baube’s work has appeared in glossy magazines such as Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Elle, and Marie Claire, never taming his fierce creative spirit which produced these shots marrying classical technique with cutting-edge subjects.
“I appreciate his will to go against the flow and never to duplicate what others do; to keep an intuitive and insinuated distance from his subjects and to be willing to actually seek that space in which imperfection and spontaneity create beauty and not the contrary,” said Demarchelier. “The essence and the esthetics of Guy’s work are intimately combined in the moment. … Humor and tenderness are forever present in his work and he creates a lightness, which finds itself in contrast to his steady will to find beauty and emotion where it is concealed in imperfection and the unexpected.”
Le Baube said he created the images on display “with 150 pounds of camera and film.” His take on digital photography: “It’s fine. Let’s leave it there.”
His models speak from the image, engaged with Le Baube in a dialogue that’s born from his first crush, who he met when they were both six years old, at a camp for asthmatic children.
Some editions of the photographs on display “are close to being sold out, as there are only 15 of each,” warned Prut.
“I’m very honored to have the first feature show of such a legend spanning five decades,” said Prut, who has been representing Le Baube for seven years.
Describing his father, French painter Claude Le Baube, best known for landscapes painted on location, depicting realistic historical naval scenes and of still-lives blended with eccentric imagery, as his “hero,” Le Baube says his father also was navy captain and “always at sea.” Being raised by women had a strong impact on Le Baube’s perspective and career.
Self-taught, Le Baube said he found his first camera, a clunky 4X5 Linhof Technika, when he was 10 years old, and wrangled with his early attempts at honing his art. Nikolaus Karpf designed the Technika, the world’s first all-metal folding field camera, in 1934, the year he joined the company founded in Munich in 1887 by Valentin Linhof. Linhof, the oldest still-producing camera manufacturer in the world after Gandolfi and Kodak ceased production, still makes revised models of the Technika.
“Now I am retired,” said Le Baube, who maintains a boyish exuberance. “I live from the past. I spend my time digging in the past, and it brings tears and laughter. It brings me back, which is good when you are old.”
Since opening its first permanent New York outpost at Hudson Yards, the sprawling mega-mall mingling visual and performing arts, celebrity chef cuisine, and retail, in March, Avant Gallery has shown a diverse range of contemporary artists. Founded by Prut in Miami Beach in 2007, Avant Gallery represents emerging and mid-career artists at locations including the Epic Hotel in downtown Miami (along with an integrated eatery, LaMuse Café), as well as at the Four Seasons, Jumeirah Resort, in Dubai.