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Jean-Loup Sieff; Innovative French Fashion Photographer


PARIS — French photographer Jean-Loup Sieff, who in questing for the "right light" became one of the most stylish and respected fashion and portrait photographers of his generation, has died at age 66, Agence France-Presse reported Thursday.

The news agency said Sieff died Wednesday night at Laennec Hospital in Paris after a long illness, but gave no details.

Born in Paris on Nov. 30, 1933, to parents of Polish origin, Sieff skipped high school classes to attend photo and movie clubs in the suburb of Clichy. At 17, he published his first photograph. Five years later, he was hired by Elle, the fashion magazine, to take pictures of famous young women. It was by pure chance, he later said, that he became a fashion photographer.

That career, as chronicler of the changing whims of female dress, would take him to some of the best-known fashion magazines, including Glamour, Esquire, Harper's Bazaar and Vogue. Between 1961 and 1966, he divided his time between Paris and New York, then returned to the French capital to found his own studio.

Whether his subject was a svelte model draped in black or a landscape, Sieff was known for making highly contrasting black-and-white photographs.

"All photography is writing with light and with its accomplice, shadow," Sieff said in a recent newspaper interview.

David Fahey, co-owner of the Fahey/Klein Gallery on La Brea who represents Sieff's work in Los Angeles, called Sieff "a great photographer."

"Jean-Loup was very diverse," Fahey said Thursday. "In addition to his well-known nudes, he also worked in advertising and fashion, reportage and made landscape photographs. His nude photographs conceal as well as reveal the sensuous moment. He was always trying to give the viewer the translation of an emotion."

Celebrities who posed nude for him included couturier Yves Saint Laurent and actress Charlotte Rampling.

"What he was seeking was the person behind the image," Marcel Lefranc, a co-worker from Sieff's days at the Vu photo agency, told Agence France-Presse. "His portraits were loaded with humanism, often with a touch of humor but never acerbic."

In an introduction to one of his books, Sieff wrote that he considered photography an odd business.

"Taking photographs is a strange occupation: daring to stop time, to capture for oneself moments in life and things past, an absurd revenge on death to try to preserve, so that they outlive us, a loved face or a pleasant landscape."

In 1958-59, Sieff worked as a photojournalist for Paris-based Magnum, probably the most celebrated photo agency in the world. He covered assignments in Turkey, a strike in Belgium and the death of Pope Pius XII.

In 1992, he was awarded France's National Grand Prize of Photography. In 1959, he received another honor named for a French pioneer in his art, the Niepce Prize. He published more than a dozen books of his pictures, and another collection is to be issued next month by the Paris publisher Alternatives.

Times staff writer Jon Thurber contributed to this story from Los Angeles.

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