My Nurse

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Meret Oppenheim-My Nurse 1936

One of the best examples of the Surrealist ‘cult of the object’ which transformed everyday found objects in strange, suggestive ways by placing them into unlikely convergences and chance juxtapositions, My Nurse by the Swiss artist Meret Oppenheim, famous for her fur-lined tea-cup is a disturbing, subversive work with marked fetishistic overtones.

An up-turned pair of white leather high-heeled shoes are placed on a platter, bound and trussed up like a turkey. Oppenheim commented on this work that ‘…it evokes for me the association of thighs squeezed together in pleasure. In fact, almost a “proposition”. When I was a little girl, four of five, we had a young nursemaid. She was dressed in white (Sunday Best?). Maybe she was in love, maybe that’s why she exuded a sensual atmosphere of which I was unconsciously aware.’  

Oppenheim’s comments and the fact that it is shoes bound in such a manner shows that she was fully aware of Freudian psychology. Another, quite clear implication, is that women are not supposed to move.

Georges Bataille in the article Big Toe in Documents magazine outlined his view on shoe and foot fetishes. Because the foot is what treads on the ground and connects us to base reality it is despised, whereas the head, which is nearest to the sky and clouds is venerated. Of course some people will take the contrary view and worship what is generally held in contempt. Luis Bunuel took a rather more straight-forward delight in his shoe fetish as can be witnessed in the extraordinary tracking shot of Catherine Deneuve’s elegant black pumps as she climbs the stairways to Madame Anais brothel for the first time in Belle Du Jour.

Dreams of Desire 55 (Helmut Newton)

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Catherine Deneuve-Helmut Newton 1976
Known as the ‘King of Kink’ and the ’35mm Marquis De Sade’ , Helmut Newton was the most influential fashion photographer of the twentieth century. Famous for his highly stylised black and white photographs of beautiful statuesque women in perverse narrative scenarios, Newton has alternatively been hailed as a true original or vilified as a fetishist who presents the ultimate in the objectification of women.

Born Helmut Neustadter  to a wealthy German-Jewish family in Berlin, Newton was an apprentice to the fashion and advertising photographer Yva (see my previous post Yva) from the ages  of 16 and 18. Fleeing the worsening situation in 1938 Newton went first to Singapore where he led a playboy lifestyle, before moving to Australia where he served in the Australian Army for 5 years. It was in Australia that he met his wife of 55 years, June, who was also a photographer known as ‘Alice Springs’.

Newton rose to fame in the 1960’s where his photographs frequently appeared in the French Edition of Vogue. The startling fetishtic glamour shots of the seventies are charged with eroticism and a ritualistic, sado-masochist atmosphere. During the 1980’s and 90’s Newton was one of the most in-demand celebrity photographers, anyone who was anyone during that time had a portrait taken by Newton. As Newton was obsessed by glamour, celebrity and decadence (after all he grew up in the Weimar Republic) it was a perfect fit and his photographs define that image conscious era.

Newton died in a car crash after leaving Chateau Marmont Hotel in Los Angeles, which served as his winter residence for many years, at the age of 83. It was, as Karl Lagerfeld noted, ‘his last picture, taken by himself.’

Catherine Deneuve

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Man Ray-Catherine Deneuve 1968
One of many celebrity portraits that Man Ray photographed during his career. As well as being one of the most beautiful actress to ever grace the screen Catherine Deneuve starred in two Bunuel movies, most notably as the housewife who turns prostitute by day to satisfy her masochistic impulses in Belle Du Jour. Her cool and aloof screen persona in the 60’s seemed to bring out a sadistic streak in her directors, especially Polanski’s Repulsion. It surprising that Hitchcock never cast her as in many ways she was the ideal Hitchcockian heroine, icy, inaccessible and above all blonde.

Catherine Deneuve remains active in movies after five decades in the business; other noteworthy movies is the trashy but enjoyable lesbian vampire flick The Hunger and Lars Von Triers Dancer in the Dark.

Dreams of Desire 17 (Belle Du Jour)

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Belle Du Jour 1967
In what may or may not be a dream scene (but what parts of the movie couldn’t be construed as either a dream or a fantasy) the incomparable Catherine Deneuve as Severine/Belle Du Jour, the haute bourgeois housewife turned daytime prostitute accepts the invitation of a sinister, decadent Duke to take part in a ‘very moving ritual’ at his country Chateau.