When I look at all the photographers who capture images of life, war, illness and human relationships at their extreme, giving us a glimpse of what happens outside of our safe environment, I realize the insignificance of my work. My work is mainly dedicated to developing narratives and capturing beauty within those ideas.
Here is outlined a history of that work without any pretence. Every one of these years was one of exploration always an adventure.
My ambition now is to see if I can go beyond my linear vision and explore and push myself to break my instinctive boundaries. We will see where this takes me.
denis piel was born in France on March 1st 1944, raised in Australia and educated in the United States. He currently lives in the southwest of France. He is an internationally acclaimed award-winning photographer and filmmaker primarily recognized for his influential approach to fashion photography in the 1980s. Piel is currently working on personal international projects.
Piel was born in France during the Second World War to Serge and Lilly Piel, activists in the French Resistance. At the end of the war, Piel’s parents emigrated with their children to Australia to begin a new life.
Piel started his career in Brisbane in 1961. He subsequently opened his studio in 1966. Meeting with early and sustained commercial success thanks to a couple of early mentors, he worked for a diverse client base shooting various subjects, from industrial subjects to portraits and fashion for a department store.
A modest assignment with Vogue Australia prompted him to move to Melbourne, where he specialized in fashion photography, working for Pol and Vogue Australia. A Sydney based editor at Pol, Robyn Batey, became his mentor and encouraged him to move overseas to explore his creativity further.
The 1970s found Piel in Paris, London and Milan with occasional stints in Hamburg, primarily shooting fashion and some advertising. His fascination with the potential of holographic images led him to experiment during this period with three dimensional constructed models.
In France, Piel began to discover his family background, which was unknown to him until then. His grandfather was Jean Piel, the editor of the intellectual revue Critique; his extended family also encompassed the renowned psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan and the Surrealist painter Andre Masson.
In the late 70s, Piel’s desire to explore new horizons took him to New York and his first assignment in the States with New York Times Magazine. This shoot in 1979 came to the attention of Alexander Liberman, editor with Condé Nast publications. After several initial assignments with Vogue, Piel contracted with Condé Nast, an agreement reserved for a select few such as Penn and Avedon.
Piel worked as a Condé Nast photographer for a decade and shot more than 1000 editorial spreads for US, German, Italian, French, English Vogue, Vanity Fair, Self and Gentlemen’s Quarterly. Including many celebrity portraits ranging from the film stars Geena Davis, Nastassja Kinski, Andie McDowell, Darryl Hannah, Isabella Rosellini, Goldie Hawn, Jamie Lee Curtis, Lillian Gish, Donald Sutherland, Jeanne Moreau, and Uma Thurman, to the directors and film producers Brian de Palma and Sherry Lansing to politicians such as Mario Cuomo, the writers Joan Didion, Erica Jong, to artists as diverse as Man Ray, Willem and Elaine de Kooning and Jasper Johns and the choreographers Mark Morris and Merce Cunningham to name a few.
Although appreciative of Avedon, Penn, Newton and others, Piel cites a more substantial influence from filmmakers; Stanley Kubrick, Satyajit Ray, Bertolucci, Antonioni, Cassavetes, Bergman, Kazan, Truffaut and Kurosawa. Press photography also influenced his work. The essential qualities which interested Piel were narrative and emotional engagement. Piel has always been drawn to new technologies, keen to explore the potential of a developing medium.
As Piel’s career progressed, his working method as photographer-director transmuted into a committed interest in film directing inspired by experience as a technical advisor on the James Toback film Exposed (1983). Starring Rudolf Nureyev and Nastassja Kinski, the actor Ian McShane plays fashion photographer Greg Miller, a character directly modelled on Piel.
In addition, he has created and executed commercial beauty and fashion projects for Anne Klein, Revlon, L’oréal, Calvin Klein, Donna Karan, Fortune magazine, Sheraton, Guerlain, Helena Rubenstein, Bergdorf Goodman, Ultima, Estée Lauder, Max Factor, Elizabeth Arden, Chanel, and more.
In 1985, he founded and ran Jupiter Films, an internationally successful film production company. He directed and wrote many commercials, notable the iconic New York campaign for Donna Karan and The Wool Board campaign, Australia. Piel’s work won numerous international awards from New York,
To Sydney, to Cannes. His many commercials clients include Guerlain, Donna Karan, Jade cologne, Johnson & Johnson, Revlon, Schweppes, Sparkasse, Alegra, Cannon, AMP Society, Luberderm, Dewar’s, J.C.Penney, Jacques Fabre, Ann Klein, Telecom Australia, Telecom New Zealand, Telekom Germany, Perfum Guy Laroche, Wool Board, Shell, Galaxy, Canada Dry, Nescafé, Singapore Airlines, Ansett Airlines, White Pages, Victoria State Government Drug and Alcohol Abuse and many more.
Piel has been a guest lecturer at the New School for Social Research/Parson’s School of Design in 1983, the Maine Photographic Workshops for the Masters Class Workshop in 1985 and the Washington Smithsonian Institute “Masters of Photography” series in 1986.
Piel was awarded the Leica Award of Excellence for his contribution to commercial photography in 1987.
In 1989 Piel left Condé Nast to concentrate on the film. He continued with his commercial advertising work in both film and stills during this period; however, he stopped shooting editorial work except very occasionally.
As a labour of passion, Piel spent over a year writing, producing and directing an independent feature, Love is Blind, an award-winning documentary film. Love is Blind selected for introduction screening 1st look series sponsored by Eastman Kodak Company, the Tribeca Film Center and the New York Foundation for the Arts. Love is Blind has been shown in the USA, Russia, France, Holland, Sweden, Australia, and Canada.
The progression into independent film-making inspired Piel also to set up .coms ‘Umbershoot and theideasbank®, vehicles that would enable people to work together collaboratively, with the concept of cross-pollinating skills to develop ideas.
After 9/11 and the dot.com crash, Piel and his family moved permanently to Lempaut in the South-West of France to live and work at Château de Padiès, a Middle Ages and Renaissance Château which they have been restoring since 1992.
The property comprises the Chateau and also Les Jardin du Château de Padiès. The gardens at Padiès are an experiment in agroecology and developed following permaculture and sustainable development principles.
Padiès and the local environment have become the source of inspiration for Piel and are central to his current photographic practice. 2003
He was a founding member of Front2End, a branding collective aimed at turning ideas that are pure imagination into things that you can hold in your hands or see on your screen.
Piel was instrumental in the development of Culture&Cultures an international film festival concerned primarily with intercultural relationships, both in the making and subject matter of the films
He wrote three film scripts, IORA, SPINDRIFT, FLY ON THE WALL and one TV series, ENCOUNTERS. 2005
“Premier l’Oeil is a celebration, not only of ‘seeing’ in the liminal time between sleep and waking but also a celebration of the sense itself…. They are threshold images, images of the self meeting the visual world each day with new eyes.”
“Ruth MacPherson (writer and photographer)
PLATESCAPES, shot over five years was exhibited in 2007 at the Way of Arts gallery in Lisbon, Portugal, explores a recurring theme in denis’ work: that of capturing the off moments, those moments that stimulate us to imagine the unseen story… in this case, what was the food, the people, the story, the occasion.
…….Platescapes is an accepted interpretation of the still life photograph. The metaphoric bones, the menacing-eyed shrimp, the lonely fork, the sauce asking to stay – there is still life – Piel is suggesting. In the universal activity of man lies a universe of gestures and emotions, a thumbprint of our particular identities, left on tables around the world every day. Perhaps it is not so much we are what we eat as much as we are what we leave over. It is the empty plate as the modern-day fossil record.——–conversations are still dripping on the plates, and emotions are still carved into the knives. Time is a frozen gesture here, and Piel warms our visual instincts to what, in all likelihood, we have frozen out of our frames. Allowing us to see with such piercing clarity what we have consumed allows us to consume what is never very clear: who we are.
Howard Altmann (Poet and Philosopher- New York)
Conversations recorded during these meals play alongside the images. The integration of sound and image is an increasingly vital element within denis’ work.
“… like many photographers, from Richard Avedon with his subjects in mental asylums to Lord Snowden who filmed derelicts in London’s doss houses, Denis seeks to explore other dimensions.” “…..starting with his lauded feature-length documentary, LOVE IS BLIND, and now with FACESCAPES, Denis follows a humanist tradition of getting in almost below the surface on his subjects to reveal the traces of life. These explorations into the human condition are the very antithesis of the beauty pictures that made him famous…..”
Phillip Adams ( writer, critic, etc.)
Shot in France, Australia and China.
The series aims to encapsulate peoples’ lives in different parts of the world. The still images are part of an installation that includes multi-screen projections of the subjects speaking about their lives.
Here Piel follows a humanist tradition of getting in close on the subject, creating landscapes of faces, faces as a field, revealing contours and valleys like an aerial view of any terrain. Behind these abstractions, Piel desires to inform the commonality of the human condition, a way of looking at the mileage of the human clock.
The France series and film titled FACESCAPES- latitude 43.533333 longitudes 2.066662 Exhibited in Sydney, Australia, 2007.
France, Australia and China images exhibited along with the preview film on Ageing in Lisbon, Portugal, at the Musee de Traje, 2008.
A Book “denis piel – MOMENTS”, the first monograph of Piel’s work, was published by Rizzoli, Sept 2012. This volume designed by award-winning designer Ruth Ansel features a selection of images taken on assignment for fashion magazines and advertising clients and nudes of breathtaking women who would become the supermodels and actresses of a new generation. Piel’s eclectic approach to his work with a disregard for categorizing work as commercial or personal has generated a diverse body of work comprising projects which sit in dialogue with one another.
essence (noun) the intrinsic nature or indispensable quality of something, especially something abstract, which determines its character.
Denis Piel. ROVE Gallery, Hoxton Square, London N1 6NN. April 11th 2013 to May 9th 2013.
Essence presents a body of work from Denis Piel’s commercial and personal projects. Food, water and bedding are recurring elements within these images and speak of basic physical needs: eating, drinking, sleeping, sex.
Irrespective of the context in which Piel has produced his photographic images, the abiding essence of the work is a celebration of the sensual, a celebration of the body.
Piel project “Down to Earth” is mainly inspired by his move to the country from the urban. Today rural/urban are not binary opposites, the rural exists in the urban, and the urban exists in the rural; nature and culture co-exist. “Down to Earth” is a celebration of living closer to nature. Photographed over a complete agricultural cycle, “Down to Earth” explores the entire process of life: impregnation, birth, blossom, death and rebirth. “Down to Earth” was shot on location at Château de Padiès.
The “Down to Earth” project was shot with a Hasselblad H4D.
Concurrently to developing and designing the book “Down to Earth”, he also created the book “Filmscapes”, highlighting the cinematic style and artistic process that made his photographs in this genre so enigmatic and unique.
“Down to Earth”, published in November 2016, includes limited-edition fine-art photographic prints from the series.
Lumière Brothers Center of Photography Exhibition February 7th- May 2017 FILM STILLS Denis Piel Fashion photography 80’s
inspired from upcoming book FILMSCAPES
EXHIBITION/SALE of DOWN TO EARTH at PHILLIPS in London 5th-16th February 2018 in association with the Soil Association.
DOWN TO EARTH is a celebration of all essential: nature and fertility, the correlation between our bodies and the earth – growth and death.
The Book FILMSCAPES, the original concept, was the inspiration for the exhibition in Moscow at Lumière Brothers, published in June 2020.
Piel published three books. EXPOSED, FILMSCAPES and PLATESCAPES. Currently available.
Piel’s photos are in the permanent collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London and The Museum of Fine Art, Boston, and numerous private collections, including the BES photo collection and the Antonio Champalimaud collections.
For any special projects, contact JESSE BLATT, photography agent and producer: firstname.lastname@example.org
Piel exhibits his work at the Staley Wise Gallery in New York City. email: email@example.com