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The Coffee Table

It’ll Last Longer

A retrospective of Lacombe's portraiture gives pause for big, beautiful books.

Book Cover Photography has changed dramatically in the past 20 years--beyond the mutations caused by digital technology. In the '80s, advertising led by fashion and lifestyle products began to look for a more editorial feel and impact, and so portraiture broke out of a formalist straightjacket. This was also true of fashion photography, and to complement this transformation there were all kinds of hip and exciting magazines that showcased emerging photographic talent: Interview (when Marc Balet was the art director), Big, L.A. Style--hell, I even published such a magazine in Boston (Stuff). Brigitte Lacombe's career roughly parallels that boom. Though she did both commercial and fashion editorial work, it was through her chance encounter with Dustin Hoffman and Donald Sutherland at the 1975 Cannes Film Festival that led to career-long devotion to her first love: portraiture (seen here and here).

Thus she has worked on countless film sets with renowned directors such as Martin Scorsese, Alan Pakula, Mike Nichols, Sam Mendes, David Mamet, Spike Jonze, Stephen Daldry, Anthony Minghella, and Steven Spielberg. Brigitte Lacombe: Anima / Persona (Steidldangin) is a 420-page retrospective monograph of 192 photos that includes portraits--many in black and white--of Barack Obama, Viggo Mortensen, Nicole Kidman, Francois Truffaut, Brice Marden, Joan Didion, Kate Winslet, Jack Nicholson, Daniel Day-Lewis, Miuccia Prada, Nelson Mandela, Aung San Suu Kyi (under house arrest in Myanmar), Claude Lévi-Strauss, and the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala, India. Like most Steidl titles, Anima / Persona is beautifully reproduced and elegantly designed--it does cause me to speculate how long publishers will continue to make such marvelous and to-be-treasured books.
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