The Swiss photographer Michel Comte, born in 1954, is a master of spontaneity and transformation who is constantly in search of new challenges. In the more than 30 years of his career, he has photographed film stars, supermodels and greats of the jazz and music scenes as well as people at scenes of crisis across the globe. Comte’s photographic eye is as sharp and alert on the red carpets of film festivals and luxury hotels as among the ruins of war zones in Afghanistan or Bosnia.
The comprehensive exhibition developed by the Museum für Gestaltung Zürich presents, for the first time, works ranging over more than three decades of this influential photographer’s career and provides insights into the development process of a pictorial world that has strongly influenced our everyday visual environment.
The exhibition presents the main phases of Michel Comte’s oeuvre, divided into several thematic groups: One part comprises the world-famous portraits, fashion photography, advertising photography and nudes that he has done since 1979. Another part, which includes the “making of” an advertising campaign and unpublished material from Comte’s archive, provides an insight into the work that goes into his photographs. A third section is devoted to Comte’s commitment to charitable institutions.
Michel Comte’s portraits reveal him to be a master of staging. He has photographed Miles Davis, Catherine Deneuve and Tina Turner for magazines such as “Vogue” or “Vanity Fair”. His portraits include Sophia Loren, Geraldine Chaplin, George Clooney and Louise Bourgeois.
Time and again, Comte succeeds in giving his portraits a distinctive touch, an interpretation of the subject’s personality arising from Comte’s pictorial language and the personal photographic encounter. For many years, he has photographed his most personal portraits not in a studio, but in the more intimate ambience of Suite 152 at the Hotel Ritz in Paris.
A subject that has particularly interested Comte ever since he took up photography is women. His superb photographs of women are distinguished by their complexity, their fluctuation between glamour and intimacy, strength and vulnerability. Many of them give an impression of cool reserve, while others are imbued with warmth, self-confidence and joie de vivre. Finally, Comte’s nudes can be perceived as erotically charged metaphors for the image of women in times of change.
The exhibition is far more than a presentation of Comte’s oeuvre and a reflection on seminal photographs of the 1980s and 1990s: It offers a glimpse of the star photographer’s work in his studio and on the set. It provides a close-up look at the creation of an advertising campaign, a glimpse behind the scenes of how the visual worlds that surround us are designed. A documentary film, which accompanies Michel Comte to several advertising shootings, shows the process of development from the advertising agency’s first drafts to the published campaign. Finally, thousands of contact prints from Comte’s archive illustrate how the pictorial composition of individual photographs is created, as well as what happens in the post-processing of the photographs chosen for publication.
Around the turn of the millennium, Comte began his volunteer work for organizations such as Terre des Hommes and the Red Cross. He has taken photographs in countries such as Afghanistan, Haiti, Tibet and Bosnia, creating photo series off the beaten path of “concerned photography” that reveal his own distinctive style. In 2004 he established the Michel Comte Water Foundation, an ecological foundation devoted to one of the most urgent global issues of the immediate future, the provision of clean water.
Curators: Christian Brändle, Andreas Hirsch
In cooperation with:
MICHEL COMTE – 360 Degrees. A Film by Ralph Goertz, 2009.
Institute for Art Documentation and Scenography, Düsseldorf.
The film is being shown in its entire length in the exhibition.
The DVD is available at KUNST HAUS WIEN MuseumShop.