A New York Gallery Show Shines a Light on Guy le Baube, the Most Famous Fashion Photographer You’ve Never Heard Of

"Behind the Scenes" at Avant Gallery presents a comprehensive look at the Franco-American photographer.

Guy le Baube, Rue Bois Le Vent (1971). Courtesy of Avant Gallery.
Guy le Baube, Rue Bois Le Vent (1971). Courtesy of Avant Gallery.

Guy le Baube partied with Andy Warhol, worked with Anna Wintour, photographed the Dalai Lama, and is chummy with Patrick Demarchelier. But somehow, the Franco-American photographer has remained surprisingly obscure.

Intrigued? You can get a primer on le Baube from “Behind the Scenes,” a new exhibition at New York’s Avant Gallery that presents a significant collection of the artist’s large-scale prints, providing new insight into the vivid life and work of a significant 20th-century photographer. 

Le Baube’s subject is, unfailingly, the female form. He depicts women posing in exaggeratedly—and almost startlingly—sexual poses that wink humorously at the viewer. In one, a woman smokes indulgently in the bathtub. In another, she is embraced—no, caressed—by a Donald Duck figurine. These images are jarring, sensual, and often silly. “For me, humor is everything and includes all of the rest, this is a serious affair,” le Baube said. 

Guy le Baube, Culotte (1978). Courtesy Avant Gallery.

Guy le Baube, Culotte (1978). Courtesy Avant Gallery.

Now 75 years old, le Baube still takes pictures, but no longer works, as he did for decades, as a fashion photographer, when his work would appear regularly in the pages of Vogue, Elle, Harper’s Bazaar and Marie Claire. The Avant Gallery show does not present these editorial images, but it does offer photographs that draw on those experiences. As Avant Gallery founder Dmitry Prut put it, “Guy refers to many of these images [in the exhibition] as outtakes. Some shots were taken while on commercial assignments and suddenly spun into something more creative and out of the original scope of work.” 

A liberty, even impulsivity, toward image-making is at the heart of le Baube’s oeuvre. “I don’t look for a picture. I’m looking for everything that I don’t have,” he mused. “I always believed that the subject demands it and dictates the urgency to take a picture.” 

Guy le Baube, Shaving Smoking (1994). Courtesy of Avant Gallery.

Guy le Baube, Shaving Smoking (1994). Courtesy of Avant Gallery.

This open, even cavalier attitude is how le Baube wound up in photography in the first place. He moved from France to New York in the 1970s and happened to fall in with a chic, arty crowd. Born into an artistic family, the grandchild of a prominent painter, le Baube was not so much a rebel as a misfit who took up photography after finding painting “too difficult.”

It was 1971. The exotic virtue of tourism in that time was calling me,” he mused. “In the context of the time… American movie scenes of gangsters, drug pushers, limousines, of splendid movie stars, all had haunted me since my tender age.” 

In his images, one finds not only the influences of American cinema, but also the Surrealists (particularly Man Ray) as well as Helmut Newton. Still, what defines le Baube is a certain affectionate humor toward the beauty and embarrassment of sexuality. As the iconic fashion photographer Patrick Demarchelier summed up in his essay accompanying the show, “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.” 

Guy Le Baube, Bomb (1999). Courtesy Avant Gallery.

Guy le Baube, Bomb (1999). Courtesy Avant Gallery.

For le Baube, this humor and affection are rooted close to home. “Some of my aunts were dancers, the others were musicians, they were all so pretty, affectionate, and it did influence me forever,” he said. “That dedication, and the tremendous generous effort it takes to be a professional dancer, combined with magical love energy from all the women of my family.” 

“Behind the Scenes” is on view at Avant Gallery, located at 30 Hudson Yards, through September 15, 2019. 

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