Fernand Fonssagrives (1910-2003) is revered as one of the earliest and greatest practitioners of 'beauty photography' from the 1940s. His most memorable work traces the unique partnership he had with his first wife, the legendary model Lisa Fonssagrives (originally a dancer and the love of Fernand's youth, who then went on to marry Irving Penn). Lisa was in fact responsible for Fonssagrives picking up a camera - she gave him a Rollieflex, after his own dance career ended due to a diving injury; "It became," he said, "part of my body."
"I WISH FOR CHRISTMAS I COULD GIVE ONE OF FERNAND'S PRINTS TO EVERY PHOTOGRAPHER WHO WORKS WITH OUR MODELS. IF THEY LIVED WITH THESE PICTURES, THEY COULD LEARN HOW IT SHOULD BE DONE."
- Eileen Ford
Born in 1910, to a sculptor father and a musician mother, his parents encouraged the young Fonssagrives to do the things he most loved: science, art, sports, gymnastics and dance. He moved to the United States at the age of 18 to continue his dance studies, and returned to Europe in 1931, at the age of 21, for military service. After the military Fonssagrives joined a German dance company, where he met the young Swedish dancer Lisa Bergstrom who became his dance partner and then his wife.
Lisa's elegant, sculptural form was a constant inspiration to Fonssagrives whether he photographed her in the open air or in a studio, experimentally draped in shadows to define contours of the human body. Pushed to return to New York during World War II, they were both catapulted into separate but highly successful careers.
Unfortunately, their careers diverged and the marriage ended; Lisa was the epitome of fashion, and though Fonssagrives worked for the cream of the magazine industry such as for Vogue, Harpers' Bazaar and Town & Country, he began to hate fashion and the commercialisation of his work. To regain his creative freedom after becoming disillusioned with advertising photography, he moved to Spain, taught himself to sculpt, and regained his creative independence.
"My objective was to try to understand what life was all about and to be free. And there's no place you can do that but in America. This is why I am here - this passion to be an individual. It is possible in America, despite all these miserable trends. But you have to buck the system at times."
His remarkable, exuberant style of photography is an uncompromising testament to a man who truly lived his dreams in the pursuit of happiness, beauty and freedom. He captured them all, on camera.