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denis piel (b. 1944) is an award winning, internationally acclaimed photographer, filmmaker and artist known for his photography based works concerning human relationships, intimacy and sensuality.
Piel, who was raised in Australia, opened his first photography studio in Brisbane in 1966. He spent the next decade shooting fashion editorials and advertising campaigns throughout Europe. A 1979 assignment for the New York Times Magazine caught the eye of legendary Condé Nast art director and editor Alexander Liberman, who hired Piel to shoot a number of editorial stories for American Vogue. Soon thereafter he accepted a contract with Condé Nast, an agreement reserved for very few select photographers such as Irving Penn and Richard Avedon.
Piel relocated to New York City in the early 1980’s and spent the next decade creating the groundbreaking fashion and advertising images that have become synonymous with his name. His directorial approach and narrative based imagery generated many of the decades most iconic photographs for magazines like Vogue, GQ, Vanity Fair and Self and in advertising campaigns for the likes of Donna Karan, Revlon, L’Oreal, Avon and Bergdorf Goodman. Piel was awarded the Leica Medal of Excellence for Commercial Photography in 1987.
Piel expanded into filmmaking, first as a technical advisor on James Toback’s 1983 film Exposed. In 1985 he founded Jupiter Films, acting as writer and director for numerous Clio and Effie Award winning commercials. He left Condé Nast in 1989 to concentrate on filmmaking, which resulted in his first feature length documentary, Love Is Blind, which explores the trials and tribulations of a newlywed blind couple. Piel later founded the CCliff International Film Festival, which was held annually in France for a number of years.
Piel has always been interested in the subtleties of human relationships which has not only been evident in his fashion, advertising and film work but more pointedly in the many fine-art photographic projects that followed, most notably Premier L’Oeil, PLATESCAPES and FACESCAPES. These bodies of work were exhibited in Europe and Australia.
In 2012, Rizzoli published a retrospective monograph of Piel’s fashion and portrait photographs called Moments. This collection of work was subsequently exhibited in New York and France. A more comprehensive retrospective exhibition called Essence, which included work from Piel’s later photographic series, was exhibited in 2013 at the Rove Gallery in London.
In 2002 Piel and his family moved to the Château de Padiès, a 12th century château in the southwest of France. Under the guidance of Piel’s wife and son, the property has become a model in sustainable farming. This change in lifestyle inspired Piel’s latest body of work, DOWN TO EARTH, which is a reaction to his experience of ‘returning to the earth’ and concerns the human relationship to nature as told through a constructed narrative featuring the nude figure within the natural environment, interspersed with landscapes and reportage photographs, all of which was shot over a complete agricultural cycle.
Currently Piel is working on a book and exhibition of his archival fashion imagery called FILMSCAPES, which highlights the cinematic style and artistic process that made his photographs in this genre so enigmatic and unique.
Piel continues his artistic exploration into the human condition—his next project concerns the great existential question, “what is the meaning of life?”.