Published by L’Officiel St Barth
August 05, 2023
By Philippe Combres



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Gilles Bensimon Flowers in Water #1542, 2012, (Edition of 3) Limited edition photograph (39.37 x 51.06 in / 100 x 129.70 cm)

L’Officiel St Barth Interview with Gilles Bensimon on the occasion of his exhibition at Space Gallery St Barth.


Gilles Bensimon, a renowned figure in photography, hailing from a family of art dealers and artists in France, has enjoyed a distinguished career. After solidifying his reputation at Elle magazine in Paris in 1969, he made a bold move to the United States and became the International Creative Director for the American version of Elle, reaching an astonishing 20 million readers worldwide. For nearly three decades, Bensimon has captured captivating images of top models and celebrities, celebrating women of all ages in empowering ways. His passion for photography is evident in his exploration of unconventional subjects, like his "Flowers in Water" series, which showcases a breathtaking fusion of colors, graceful movements, and enchanting reflections. Throughout his illustrious career, Bensimon's work has been a testament to his dedication to expressing beauty and elegance in every frame.



PHILIPPE COMBRES: So you are a regular visitor of St Barth. How long have you been coming to the island?


GILLES BENSIMON: A little over 20 years. I moved to America at that time to participate in the creation of American ELLE. At that time, I mostly went to the Bahamas, and I discovered St Barth later. When I arrived, I discovered the magic of the people of the island. I made friends and found different interesting places on the island. After a while, I started to take my family here for Christmas vacation. I have lots of people I know here, Larry Gagosian, all these people. I practically never go out, strangely, except when I was in my 40s in Paris.


Some people who live here have never even seen the other side of the island; they’ve never been to the sea. For these people, life was difficult, and they still run the island. I think that’s great because I was afraid that suddenly the place would become a resort destination.


PHILIPPE COMBRES: Is there a moment when you think that the island of St Barth changed a bit?


GILLES BENSIMON: I think the island changed for the better. The roads are better, the island is safe; you can leave your house unlocked here. When I saw all of St Tropez coming here and opening restaurants, I was worried. There is nowhere in the world that compares to St Barth, so I hope that people who come here respect the island and its beaches. I don’t know if I told you, but I think Laurie Lynn mentioned it, I was renting (Rudolf) Noureev’s house for three weeks. It was a shack. I told them to come, they told me, “Gilles, we're in Los Angeles, we could go anywhere,” and after three weeks, they came. They arrived, and Richard (Stark) fell in love.


But before I was on a trip with him, I was shooting in Iceland. At this time, I was shooting in Iceland. And I was taking pictures of Jesse Jo when she was 14 or 15, with another girl. I said, I need a chaperone. I said Richard you have to come Richard come as a chaperone. And he fell in love with Iceland as well. Iceland is so beautiful, untouched. Everything is untouched. People building tiny houses. I discover places in the best way. I never bought a house because before I got divorced, I built a house in the Hamptons, but after you divorce it’s a tsunami. But it’s ok, I have two daughters.


PHILIPPE COMBRES: So let's talk about your actual work. You start your "In Bloom" exhibition with the Flower series.


GILLES BENSIMON: I’ve always been obsessed with water, even in the fashion pictures I’ve done. I swim every day. I spend so much time in the water, some days four or five hours. And I’ve also always been passionate about flowers. I love gardens. So the combination just seemed natural for me. I started the work when my contract with ELLE Magazine was ending. The contract was more than generous, and I was in the process of getting a divorce. Suddenly, nobody wanted to work with me because, as a photographer, when you find yourself at the head of the magazine, nobody likes that. I understood that, and I was not bitter. This was more than 20 years ago.


PHILIPPE COMBRES: Do you think it was also about your images being heavily focused on the nudity of women?


GILLES BENSIMON: No, I think they decided my contract was too big. I think when you work for a magazine, ethically you can’t work for the client of the magazine. I learned a lot. I started with the flowers in water, and it took me three years. Every summer, I played around with these ideas, and as time went on, I started to do shows in galleries. But I need a special swimming pool; I can never find the perfect swimming pool to shoot these images.


PHILIPPE COMBRES: What sort of special swimming pool?


GILLES BENSIMON: It needs to be close to a place where I can get fine flowers, and you need this mix of sun and shadow, and also a deep pool but not too deep because I have to be in the pool to take the picture. And I need the time because at that point I spent two or three months doing it every day. Perhaps I’ll do another series. One day. But I think it was done. You know when you’re done with something.


Gilles Bensimon Flowers in Water #1841, 2012, (Edition of 3) Limited edition photograph (39.37 x 51.06 in / 100 x 129.70 cm)

Gilles Bensimon Flowers in Water #6095, 2012, (Edition of 6) Limited edition photograph (31.50 x 40.85 in / 80 x 103.75 cm)

PHILIPPE COMBRES: Can you tell us about the mythical meaning?


GILLES BENSIMON: The meaning for me sounds depressing, but everything is about death. I have an obsession with death. For me, it’s because I know; for example, when you see death in movies, it’s so different from a painting representing this feeling of death. With music, it is different because if I listen to Pablo Casals, for example, the spirit is still there. The movies get old. Even if you love a movie, when you look at it again it’s not the same.


PHILIPPE COMBRES: When I was a kid, I gifted my mom flowers, and she told me not to cut flowers for her because they are dead, as a kid I didn't understand that…


GILLES BENSIMON: It’s that same idea. For me, when you put those cut flowers in water, they are alive again. I could recreate something through this. And you know I destroy a lot of cameras; I spend hours taking the images. I can’t always find the flowers I want to use, but it’s still so magical. I have tried to recreate some of them, and I can’t; it was in the moment. It's too bad I can’t show the images bigger.


PHILIPPE COMBRES: You mean the size?


GILLES BENSIMON: Yes, because bigger images, images that cover the walls, create the feeling that the room is submerged in the water as well.


PHILIPPE COMBRES: So it's a question of the size of the wall?


GILLES BENSIMON: That's the proportion. Yes, it's a good show. I'm very happy.

Gilles Bensimon Flowers in Water #6663, 2012, (Edition of 3) Limited edition photograph (39.37 x 51.06 in / 100 x 129.70 cm)

Gilles Bensimon Flowers in Water #7644, 2012, (Edition of 3) Limited edition photograph (39.37 x 51.06 in / 100 x 129.70 cm)

PHILIPPE COMBRES: It took a lot of time to have an exhibition of yours here in St Barth. Why did you wait so long?


GILLES BENSIMON: I never push myself. If people don't ask, I will not do something.




Gilles Bensimon: I love when people see and like my passion, but I’m very bad at selling myself. Either I’m too pretentious or people don’t like it. I have another big show coming up, an exhibition in Paris, with “Workonpapers” at Larock-Granoff starting in September. But I'm afraid to not be recognized. You know that.


PHILIPPE COMBRES: Yeah. I think every artist is a bit afraid when they meet an audience,


GILLES BENSIMON: Yes, people judge.


PHILIPPE COMBRES: So the show will continue until August 25th, giving visitors the opportunity to access your beautiful creations. What do you hope viewers will take away from the exhibition? And how do you want it to impact them emotionally?


GILLES BENSIMON: I would like it if some people ordered bigger images; the bigger images really give you a feeling. I don’t want to show more pictures of naked women. I’m not against nudity, but it makes me uncomfortable to take nude pictures. My whole life, I have been uncomfortable taking nude pictures.








GILLES BENSIMON: When I worked for Maxim, we never showed anything. They always had something on. It’s not about voyeurism; it’s an image of a woman as an object, and I have daughters.


PHILIPPE COMBRES: Have the times changed maybe?


GILLES BENSIMON: No, I’m not comfortable with it; there are other things to take images of. It’s funny because men are almost never naked, except in certain types of magazines.


PHILIPPE COMBRES: It seems that you are passionate about water and the ocean. Do you feel concerned about the alarming environmental issues and especially the protection of the ocean?


GILLES BENSIMON: I am obsessed with water. I mean, I do my part to pick up any plastics I see when I’m walking along the beach.


PHILIPPE COMBRES: Every winter, we do a charity gala raising money for environmental causes here in St Barth.


GILLES BENSIMON: I would be happy to donate to that.


PHILIPPE COMBRES: That was my next question. Thank you so very much for your support.



Exhibition ‘In Bloom'
Gilles Bensimon
Space Gallery St Barth
Until August 25, 2023



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