One of Guy's Models
a memoir by Joan Bennett
I worked for almost 2 yrs with Guy, at the beginning of my career in the mid eighties, when I just freshly arrived in Paris at age 19, he was the first photographer to book me when I arrived from Chicago. He stopped booking me at around the time I fully mastered the French language (18 months later), and also when I lost my very young face and started looking "street smart". I think he liked my "confused beginner" expression, as he would never tell me what to do while working; he'd just shine a bright light in my face and shoot.
I did this Naf Naf campaign with him. The whole team drove up to Deauville from Paris in a van and a car. Once at the hotel, we were allotted rooms, Guy got a room that was decorated with a dominance of green - he hated green and we lost an hour as he changed rooms. The mascot for Naf Naf images at the time was a pig. We all got into the van and went to a nearby farm and picked out our pig for the shoot. We leashed him, brought him back to the hotel and shampooed him with a hose and soap. We drove to the beach and the stylist set up a lovely picnic by the shore, just as we were about to lay down on the blanket, a big wave came up and half way washed out the whole picnic scene. With everyone screaming and running around to save things, the pig panicked and starting shitting everywhere. Guy was yelling "oh, ze peeg, ze peeg eez not professional!" And he was hysterically laughing at his comment.....so was I. At that time we would refer to difficult models as being unprofessional.
We got it all together and set up again, farther from the shore this time. But the pig was still shitting; he shat a long piece of straw that didn't fully come out and was permanently sticking out from his butt, which made Guy laugh some more as the stylist had to pull that out by hand. He had a strange laugh. He had a little boy's voice too, kind of nasally. Strange.
By the time we could shoot, the light had gone down, Guy wasn't laughing about that. Thus the fuzzy effect of this picture as a result.
At the end we drove back to the farm to give back the pig, which smelled soapy and the other pigs wouldn't accept him anymore so the farm family killed and ate him.
Working with Guy was not just another day of shooting, there was always a story to go along with each day, each day was different. Yes he was quirky, strange, had a different sense of humor from most people's. But he was also always polite, respectful, well-mannered, soft-spoken, behaved in an educated way as if coming from a good family. He would vouvoie everyone, all the time. Which demands effort, concentration, and excellent vocabulary. Vouvoie is a formal way of adressing people, using vous, instead of tu, meaning you. It's used either to show respect, or to show that you'd like to keep a distance and not become friendly. Some ultra-snobby, bourgeois families even oblige their children to adress the parents in that form......it's very difficult to do for a long period of time. The verb conjugations get excrutiatingly difficult when you start tallking in the future tense....but Guy mastered it perfectly. In over 20 yrs living in France, I never met anyone else that would speak that way. Some people said he was sadistic, but not with me. He would always ask if I was hungry, too cold, too hot - and he would cater to my answer. He said he didn't like to shoot hungry models.
I've heard stories of him asking models to hold uncomfortable positions for a long time; not with me. I think the holding positions was to obtain a real expression from the model - as we quickly become posey in front of the camera, we know we're being photographed, so we're not ourselves, but become models. But not with me at that time, as I was honestly confused, and sincerely didn't know what the hell I was doing, or supposed to be doing, and couldn't understand French and what people around me were saying.
Throughout the crazy work days with him, his nuttiness and unexpected happenings, he stayed coherent. His work, his words, his behavior, the end results were always coherent. He was never angry, yelling, never hysterical, always very respectful of everyone. He never set out on purpose to shock or offend. He never set out just to shoot something completely crazy with no purpose. They say he was a genius. The difference between a genius and someone who is just plain suffering, unhappy and unconformist is there; in the coherence that is their work's results. A coherence that all ordinary people can understand and enjoy, but are incapable of creating themselves.To get back to what I think Guy was looking for in a model, attached is another beauty shot he took of me when I first arrived in Paris. Again there's that confused, unposey look, and I forgot to add, I'm extremely near-sighted and wore thick glasses back then because contact lenses at that time made my eyes red. He liked that blind look too; I honestly couldn't see where he and the camera were, what people were doing, I had to be led to the set I'm so blind. In alot of his shots, the girls look lost, misplaced...... After being on the modelling circuit for a while my look soon changed... I found comfortable contact lenses, lost a few pounds, gained confidence in myself, began to pose and stare down the photographer....and Guy didn't book me anymore.
On a bad day, Guy would take one shot. A good day he did about 3. Sometimes I'd spend all day completely made-up, hair done, and he wouldn't shoot me - of course I was paid for the day anyway. It was the first, the last and the only time that I would work with a photographer allowed to yield such low productivity. He didn't feel stress, couldn't care less about spending the budget right and getting money's worth out of everybody. I never came across that kind of attitude ever again....it was impossible in the real fashion world to work like that.
Everyday, a giant, sumptuous bouquet of fresh flowers would be delivered to the Vogue Studio. Usually lilys, roses, and other expensive flowers. When you look at his pictures, you'll see that flowers were a favorite prop for him....sometimes just the tip of one flower just barely sticking into frame.
He was interested in astrology, his first question to me was, "what's your sign?" (Virgo). In Nov 1985 or 1986 he put me on option for a big Vogue booking to Haiti for almost one month. My agency was used to him confirming his options on me, and we turned down all other bookings for Nov. and I didn't do castings for jobs that were shooting in Nov. About 3 days before the departure date he cancelled me saying that it was not a good month for him to work with Virgos. I could have killed him!!! You can't do that to a model anymore these days.
Here is my half of a 2 page shot; I don't have the other side unfortunately. The other page was another model's head in his other hand, identical to my page. The man holding our heads is Tyen. At that time he was a famous make up artist, today he is also a successful photographer, notably for all of the Dior cosmetics campaigns.
To prepare for this shot, we the 2 models needed to be draped with long, thick, black shawls - sturdily attached behind our necks with metal clips. The stylist was preparing the other model, Guy was preparing me. As Guy was placing the shawl around my neck he started to pull it a bit tight, and then tighter, and when I started making little noises he pulled it even tighter! He was laughing and having a great time - He was gently strangling me! When I started making shreiking noises the stylist came and rescued me. She jokingly scolded Guy as if she knew he was going to pull a stunt like this, as if he'd done it before.
At the end of that day the stylist told me that Guy's first wife was in a mental institution. And that his last 2 wives had hung themselves from the same chandelier in Guy's chateau.
As I rode the metro home after the shooting I came to my own little conclusion that Guy had strangled his 2 wives and hung them up there to make it look like suicide. He was having too much fun strangling me, he'd obviously done it before!
At the end of another day of shooting, Guy came towards me with a tape measure and measured my shoulder width. I asked why and his eyes sparkled like they did when he was having one of his fun macabre moments - he smiled and said he would have a lovely surprise for me tomorrow......
The next day I came to the studio. Huge bouquets of beautiful flowers were delivered, as usual. And after a few hours another kind of delivery came; it was a glass coffin. Then 2 men in dark suits with black leather briefcases came to the studio.
At that time I couldn't speak french very well yet and I really couldn't understand what was going on. The stylist, make up and hair got me ready. I was dressed in a beautiful haute couture gown, as usual....When I came out of the make up room the 2 men in suits came towards me, opened their cases and proceeded to drape me in millions of dollars of Harry Winston diamond jewelry. Then Guy came to me, took my hand and led me to the set where the coffin was set up. He put funeral music on the stereo, took the top off of the coffin and asked me to lay down in it. He turned the funeral music up louder and started tearing off flower petals and throwing them up in the air all around me. He was having such a good time. His eyes were shining, he was smiling and humming along with the music, dancing around throwing the petals........Guy was having another wonderful macabre moment.
He turned the music down and asked me if I was comfortable. I was. He said he was going to put the top to the coffin on; that was fine with me. (I have to mention that the coffin did not go down further than mid-shin, which would be out of frame. So it was open at the bottom, and Guy had prepared a little, electric mini-fan that he put at my feet so I wouldn't be too hot or stifled in the coffin). Then he said "I weel not shoot you unteel you look dead !" "We weel leave you alone unteel you look and feel dead!" And he turned off some of the lights, but not all, and he and the team and the other model all left the studio. So I was alone in a 3/4 coffin with diamonds, petals and funeral music.
I have always been a street-smart, tough type; not easy to flip me out.....so I felt fine, relaxed, I love classical music. I was a typical partying, sleep- deprived young model; so I fell asleep. Anyway, I knew the Harry Winston security guys were no farther away than behind the door.....
I don't know how little or lot of time passed, but they came back, I woke up groggy and Guy was happy by how dead I looked. He had the other model come and lean over my coffin, completely naked, with fake, glycerine tears falling on her cheeks....Guy explained some goofy scenario to her: "She eez your dead lover, takeeng eet all weeth her to zee grave, you are crying, you are sad, she no leave you zee money!"
Then the stylist made Guy shoot the same version with the other model dressed this time, that's of course the version that was published.
God, at the end of this shot Guy looked really satisfied, as if he'd had an orgasm!