Sat. Jan 28th, 2023

Light hits differently in France. This holds especially true in the French Riviera where wealth, affluence, fame, leisure, pleasure and style converge on the Mediterranean coastline. Since the mid 19th century, Cote d’Azur has been shaping the high life. The idyllic region which spans the coastal cities of Nice, Saint Laurent du Var, Antibes, Juan les Pins, Cannes, Mandelieu la Napoule, Frejus, Saint Raphael, Sainte Maxime and Saint Tropez has also since been regarded as a hotbed of culture and a fashion destination.

teNeues’ newly launched coffee table collectible, Light on the Riviera, chronicles the evolution of photography in the Cote d’Azur. Written by Fotografiska’s Sophie Wright and edited by Genevieve Janvrin, this book tells the story of how a quiet fishing village has turned into the world’s most beloved coastal escape. For fans of photography and travel, Light on the Riviera offers an indepth look into the development of both medium and destination. It covers various eras that saw the settling of early pioneers in the mid 1800s up to when moments lived on the Riviera were being immortalized in full color.

Although essentially a photography book, Light on the Riviera also presents itself as a rich resource for lifestyle, art and fashion references. In her introduction, Sophie narrates: “In 1956, Grace Kelly married Prince Rainer of Monaco in a fairytale wedding, bringing megawatt glamor to the principality. That same year, Roger Vadim filmed And God Created Woman in Saint Tropez, making the young Brigitte Bardot a movie star and transforming the sleeping fishing village into a fashion destination. Edward Quinn’s career coincides with this period, where Bardot and Kelly’s fame drew the jet set to the Riviera.”

Edward Quinn Photographs The Stars of the Riviera

Quinn’s work is cleverly curated in an entire chapter dedicated to The Golden Fifties. Other stunning images revealed in this section includes a pre-fame portrait of Audrey Hempburn, Natalie Wood and Warren Beatty in Cannes, Marlon Brando at port de Bandol, and Sophia Loren living it up at the Riviera. The lensman who was based in the Cote d’Azur for most of his career set a high standard for photographing stars during his time. In stark contrast to ruthless paparazzi culture. Sophie notes: “Edward Quinn worked in cooperation with his famous subjects, winning their trust with discretion and charm… his photographic career reflects his privileged access to many celebrity’s lives.”

The Playground of Artists and Intellectuals

In another chapter called Painting with Light, the book zeroes in on the great artists who made their marks on the region. Picasso was one of the most frequently photographed, as were Henri Matisse, Jean Cocteau and Marc Chagall. “The public’s appetite for seeing well-known figures in intimate situations extended to studio portraits of some of the key artists who lived and worked on the Cote d’Azur,” writes Sophie.

In Light on the Riviera, readers will enjoy stunning art photographs that include: a portrait of Picasso using light to paint in the air (by Gjon Mili), Jean Cocteau painting a mural for the Chapelle Saint Pierre (by Edward Quinn), and Marc Chagall in his Saint Paul de Vence studio. Taken in 1955, Andre Villers takes a photograph of him and Picasso looking in the mirror. The photographer called this early version of a mirror selfie, Picasso et…moi!

The Pages of Fashion Made in Monaco

Fashion and style references abound in the pages of Light on the Riviera, but it’s the chapter on Helmut Newton (Sun, Sex and Swimming Pools) that will energize the avid fashion reader. After settling into life by the Mediterranean coast, Newton dedicated more than two decades of his life creating iconic fashion images with the Riviera as the backdrop. His muses included supermodels, pop stars and royalty, immortalized through his lens as embodiments of a femme fatale.

Newton’s take on a modern day goddess was portrayed by Cindy Crawford wearing a sheer bodysuit, surrounded by troves of tourists in a Monte Carlo plaza. A half dressed Verushka peeks out from the balcony of a private villa in Nice. It’s a provocative image that compels the mind to imagine what might go on behind closed doors. Paloma Picasso, dressed in an asymmetrical dress with slicked back hair and layers of gold jewelry, tells a million stories anchored on wealth, beauty, power, and influence. Newton’s iconic nudes by the poolside, pointy pumps, and tied up Amazonian heroines make Light on the Riviera an enriching fashion read especially for those aspiring to build a career in the world of style.

I have always shied away from writing about fashion photography for lack of understanding technical know-how. Light on the Riviera is a rare exception. The collector’s item hardbound from TeNeues offers a visual chronicling of the French Riviera’s evolution, way of life, and fashions throughout the decades.

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