A Star Photographer Turns Her Lens on the Nature of NorCal

Brigitte Lacombe’s photos of meditative moments during quarantine are for sale to help the homeless

Interview courtesy of ABSOLUT ART


In photography terms, Brigitte Lacombe is up there with the very best. Over the past few decades, the French-born New Yorker has amassed a body of portraits, largely in black and white, which include the former South African President Nelson Mandela and the late artist Louise Bourgeois. Her recent advertising campaign for Chanel’s J12 watch features Naomi Campbell and mother-daughter duo Vanessa Paradis and Lily Rose Depp.

As COVID-19 hit America, she decamped to Bolinas in Northern California to quarantine at a friend’s home and has just released this series of works that took her in a new direction: image-making without (or with very little) human presence.



Four of the photographs from the series shown here are available as prints to purchase through Absolut Art, an organization selling limited-edition prints with a mission of making art accessible and affordable. With this collection, Lacombe and Absolut Art will donate $5,000 to Coalition for the Homeless, a nonprofit which provides food, crisis services and housing to over 3,500 people every day. It is worth noting that Lacombe rarely makes her work available in the consumer market.

Here, the reclusive photographer answers a few questions on her latest endeavor.


“Ever since I started working, I’ve never stayed so long in one place, since so much of my life is to travel — excessively, or even obsessively”



Tell us about the beautiful photos in this collection.
A friend … invited me to stay in this wonderful house in a little town in Northern California, looking over the ocean. I’ve been coming here for 25 years or so. There are two images of the view of the Pacific Ocean and the beach from above, with a lonely person swimming or walking in an otherwise empty landscape. It is the view I see every morning and every evening and many times in between, with the ever-changing light, the endless beauty. There is also the image, a detail, of the fence and the tree trunks that I pass every day on my walks, and the one of the small bird, high up on the electric pole, with twigs in his beak, preparing his nest. These images have a Blowup quality to them [a reference to the 1966 film by Michelangelo Antonioni] — they are grainy, small moments observed from a distance when suddenly you have the time to look.


California, Fence.


What has your time in isolation been like?
For seven weeks, I was in Manhattan, at my studio, confined by myself. I was very fortunate to be in a good place and to have all that I needed. Ever since I started working, I’ve never stayed so long in one place, since so much of my life is to travel — excessively, or even obsessively. Not many people have the luxury to look at this period as a time to think, to be still, to look around, to read. I’m also always late in editing my work, so this time allowed me to get caught up. But then I was happy to escape and come to California where it’s the opposite of my Manhattan indoor studio situation, as here I can be outdoors.



“I will work on more in-depth projects instead of running everywhere. And for sure I will spend more time with the people I love”



What has been on your streaming list? What podcasts are you relying on?
I go back to the classics, like John Huston’s The Maltese Falcon and Joseph Mankiewicz’s All About Eve, all the films of Powell and Pressburger, and also the films directed by Billy Wilder but also by Andrei Tarkovsky. And Jean-Luc Godard’s Contempt and Jean Renoir’s Rules of the Game. But most importantly, like everyone, I’m very concerned with what is happening in the world and around us, so I rely a lot on podcasts like Post Reports from The Washington Post, or The Daily from The New York Times, and The New Yorker’s Radio Hour. But, being French, I listen to France Culture, which is one of the best radio stations in France. Their coverage is really in-depth, very diverse. So much extraordinary work is being done out there.


California, Pacific #1.


Which creative people have been sustaining you in this time?
I watch many Instagram Live conversations. I just listened to MoMA curator Paola Antonelli with Alice Rawsthorn, and to the Serpentine Gallery’s podcasts, with curator Hans Ulrich Obrist. I always go to the Serpentine when I’m in London. Hans Ulrich Obrist’s interests are so eclectic; he’s interested in so many things and types of people. His intellect is so broad and he’s so enthusiastic, with a very good positive energy. And everything that comes out of the Prada foundation [Fondazione Prada].



How has your time in quarantine affected your thoughts about your own lifestyle?
I know that I will not go back to the life I was living. Most people who live the same type of life I do knew there was something unsustainable about the speediness and the greediness of how we’ve been living. I don’t think that I want to travel as much or work as much. I may not live in a big city anymore. There is another way to live, not being in the center of things all the time, but rather going to cities for specific things you need to do or want to see. I will work on more in-depth projects instead of running everywhere. And for sure I will spend more time with the people I love.


Feature image: California, Pacific #2.


June 17, 2020

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