NPR logo Anima/Persona


Photographer Brigitte Lacombe is shy, says her editor. But how can a timid person take such bold photographs? How does she stand before dignitaries such as the Dalai Lama — or celebrities like Meryl Streep and Martin Scorsese — and maintain composure, both photographically and personally?

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One possible answer is that with shyness often comes intuition. Lacombe is just that: an intuitive photographer who cares little for the trappings of stardom. Her impulse is to capture the essence of her subjects. This explains the title of her most recent book, Anima/Persona. A retrospective collection of portraits, mostly black and white, it explores the various faces of fame: There's the way we perceive celebrities, but there's also the character beneath the facade. Lacombe's mission is to present the latter.

The book is full of quiet, intimate moments — from 1975 to today. Nicole Kidman gets dressed for the film Cold Mountain, seemingly unaware of Lacombe's presence; Kate Moss and Twiggy, typically made-up and dressed-up on magazine covers, are stripped down to the minimum; Bob Dylan, in his 60s, walks with his back to Lacombe on his California ranch.

Frank Rich of The New York Times puts it well in his introduction:

There is art, and there is show business. In a young century overdosing on glossy and voyeuristic celebrity exploitation masquerading as photojournalism, it's essential to keep the boundary distinct. That is the key to appreciating the photography of Brigitte Lacombe, whose work often takes her into the realm of show business but whose pictures strip the commerce away from the artists until we are face-to-face with what some of the seminal figures of our time are trying to say to their audience.

In that sense, Lacombe provides more than just a lens; she also gives a voice, despite being shy.

To view more of her work, check out her Web site.

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