My father’s studio was in our home in the south of Paris, so my sister and I grew up steeped in the culture of photography. In 1949, Michel de Brunhoff, the editor of Vogue Paris, hired my father on an exclusive three-year contract.
The work was very different from my father’s regular milieu – he spent most of his career documenting the lives of ordinary French people. Fashion and what he saw as the banalities of social life didn’t interest him at all. I could wear the same dress for five years and then one day he would say, ‘Oh, that’s a nice dress.’
He didn’t notice fashion – but he noticed models. When he was presented with models and dresses, he really didn’t pay attention to the clothes, just the women in them. He was particularly interested in the model Bettina. He found her intelligent and gracious in her movements, which was good for his photography.
He once wrote that at Vogue he felt ‘like the gardener’s son, invited along with the children from the château on the proviso that he brings with him a fresh perspective’. Despite his lack of interest in the subject matter, he produced some wonderful work.
He photographed Brigitte Bardot when she was 16 and just starting to make her living as a model. She hadn’t done any cinema yet. Although she appears in several images from the same shoot, which suggests he must have been taken with her, he never mentioned her at home. He was quite a storyteller and loved to talk about shoots and things he’d discovered, but there were others he talked about, not her.
When I look at Brigitte, I find her beautiful, but my favourite of my father’s photographs is Mademoiselle Anita. She was sitting in the café and there was something that he saw in her – the only thing he changed was that he asked her to take off her hat. She had her shoulders bare and she was looking down at the table.
They never saw each other again, so it’s a mysterious photograph to me. Looking at these images reminds me that this all happened a long time ago.’