Noelle Hoeppe (1958, Paris) was seventeen when she found her calling –photography. At that time, there weren’t so many places where you could get a proper higher education in the medium. The program she could have followed in Paris was too much technique-oriented. The two main alternatives were Switzerland and the States. She was twenty years old when she crossed the Atlantic in order to begin with her studies. She ended up living eleven years in New York where she took classes, among others, in photography at the Parsons School for Design and of film history at NYU. Yet what had to be decisive was her encounter with her Heather Drake, a fellow student with whom she developed the visual language that had to become her artistic hallmark. Shot in black-and-white, these early photographs presented her dimly lighted body –arising desire by suggesting what had to remain hidden.
In 1991, a new period began for Noelle who decided to come back to Europe. In Paris she soon became a household name in the field of commercial photography. It is not until she met another inspiring model that Noelle felt like taking up again the work she had started in New York. Triggered by Christina Atchou’s sculptural body, she was yet to give another expression to female eroticism.
Catherine Somzé: You’ve chosen Eyemazing to make public your latest series “Blue Nudes”. Could you tell me a bit more about your latest photographic endeavor?
Noelle Hoeppe: For the past ten years I have been freelancing as a photographer for different magazines and have felt the increasing need to dedicate more time and energy to my own projects. In 2001, I resumed with my personal work with the series “Blood.” Yet, beyond the importance of this exhibition, another event had been decisive in my life. A few years before, I had met the one woman who stimulated the birth of the new images that I was feeling I was carrying in me for a long time. Since I had left New York in 1991, no model had been able to inspire me. My encounter with this woman appeared to be providential.
C. S.: This is the woman who modelled for the “Blue Nude” series?
N.H.: Yes, her name is Christina Atchou. We’ve been working together for the past eight years. Though all my previous work is in black-and-white, her utterly sculptural, toned and harmonious shapes brought me to shoot her in color.
C.S.: Why did you choose blue as a color?
N.H.: The blue color and the use of oil, that metamorphoses her body into a complex of shining surfaces, help rendering Christina’s unique and extremely supple way to move in the space. My first and main goal was to photographically render the sculptural appearance of her body. I wanted above all to exacerbate her forms. I decided to shoot her in close-up so that the viewer could experience her mesmerizing way to move through the space and her sculptural curves. In order to achieve that I literally filled the frame with her body so that it becomes unavoidable, thrust forward. That’s also the reason for me to always favor large formats over small ones, 85 X 130 cm minimum.
C.S.: What about the female body in your work?
N.H.: It has been one of my focuses since the beginning. I grew my initial body of work with Heather Drake, my very first model, a petit but curvy woman, whom I met when I was living in New-York. We made images together for eight years. The locations I found – dimly lit and rather decrepit were the trigger for each session. Accessories were chosen from a range of lingerie pieces and stilettos I collected. These black-and-white sensual images could be compared to the in-between moments of a filmic story –of what shouldn’t be revealed but only suggested. I was like a director with Heather. I would suggest to her a short sequence of movements and then I would follow her with my 35mm camera. It was as if I had been working with a movie camera.
C.S.: You suggested that the ”Blue Nudes” series constituted the continuation of the work you started in New-York…
N.H.: This sensual and erotic world was the basis of my work with Christina. Her powerful body called for more unpolished and rougher locations still dimly lit but with a more contrasting lighting. The accessories remained the same and I would still shoot in black and white with a hand held 35mm camera. I would move along with her as I had with Heather. However I was no longer working in a narrative mode. What had become so important were her accentuated curves. I wanted to exacerbate her even fuller shapes. That was the trigger for the “Blue Nudes” series.
C.S.: Did your commercial have some influence in the further development of your visual language?
N.H.: Both in my personal and commissioned work, I try to make visible what is hidden at first sight –a characteristic feature of the model’s personality. Somebody’s vulnerability for instance. In the “Blue Nudes” series, I have tried to render Christina’s very special sensuality that expresses itself through her movements and peculiar presence in front of the camera.
C.S.: The Western history of art carries specific clichés of femaleness, to which extent your work differs from or coincides with this artistic tradition?
N.H.: The “Blue Nudes” most directly point at the beginnings of Occidental art. This series echoes the Venuses of Fertility, such as the Willendorf’s. For me, these constitute the most achieved representations of women’s nature and their specific life energies. They portray women’s primal essence while, by contrast, my work with Heather Drake was much more informed by stylized, classic-like, representations of women. Anyway, though I am aware of possible iconographical references, my artistic projects stem primarily from personal needs and quests. To create an artistic work means for me to fully give way to my inner drives without any kind of barriers.
C.S.: “Blue Nudes” is the first of three different series that will be gathered in a book to be published by next year.
N.H.: Yes, “Blue Nudes” was followed by the “Red Fluids” and “White Fluids” series. With the pictures inspired by Christina’s curves I went closer to the body. The images became yet more intimate. In the “Red” and “White Fluids” series, even more deeper energies surface.
C.S.: Which are these energies that you are willing to unveil?
N.H: I want to get even deeper, to the level of cells, to the level of the infinitely small and to show how everything inside us is in constant movement. It’s life searching, life energies which are unfolding. My latest work is about travelling within and finding these energies that are in motion inside our body. To grow towards oneself.
C.S.: Do you think people can actually find that threatening?
N.H.: Of course! You only need to look around to notice how many people are actually not inhabiting their own body. They walk besides themselves. But each of us we have inside this extreme force, this source of energy. It can be frightening. It’s like my pictures which are very bolt or sometimes violent but always full of life. They should be like a punch in the stomach but should also be inspiring. They should make you uncomfortable, sick and eroticize, all at the same time!