French photographer and all round fashionista, SONIA SIEFF lays bare her early life influences and everyday fashion staples as the #legend team jets off to Marrakech to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Van Cleef & Arpels’ Alhambra collection
Sonia Sieff and Nicholas Foulkes on the 50th anniversary of Van Cleef & Arpels Alhambra collection
SONIA SIEFF IS, quite truly, photographic royalty. The daughter of Jeanloup Sieff, it's arguable that she was destined to follow in his iconic footsteps, perhaps even born with a photographic eye. From initially wanting to become a writer, Sieff reveals that her photography career began at the age of 17 and has since developed into her much-celebrated natural portrait style. From her family to her Van Cleef favourites, Sieff shares it all.
How would you describe your unique brand of photography?
I would say it's not too sophisticated and more natural. I want women to feel comfortable and to feel true to the camera – I want to keep them the way they are.
Is one born with a photographic eye or does one develop such a thing?
This is a very difficult question, as I was born into a photography family. It wouldn't be fair for me to say that I just learned it, because my entire youth and the way I was raised was through photography. But of course I think photography is a lot of work. I mean, every job you do requires this, but it's a mix of both – you're gifted, born with an eye and composition, but you have to work on it.
How old were you when you decided you wanted to become a professional photographer?
Well, I started photography when I was 17 years old and my parents were both photographers, so I followed their path. Of course, I have developed my own style, as I do colour whereas my dad was doing black-and-white. But I think we do the same topics and share the same interests – we love women, travelling, fashion, portraits.
Would you say your influence has come primarily from your father’s side? Or is there anybody else that influenced you?
I don't think I was influenced by anyone. I was raised with taste and a point of view, but I really developed my own way of taking pictures. I have been a photographer for 20 years now and I love some photographers' styles, but I don't follow them… I don't copy. It's like reading a good book – some writers have a great style, but you aren't going to try to do the same thing.
Is there a mantra or a saying that has shaped your work?
Richard Avedon once said: “A portrait is not a likeness; it is an opinion.” And I believe he's right, because taking a good picture is showing something that can be unpleasant, but also truthful.
What’s your jewellery taste like? What do you wear on a typical day?
My jewellery taste is, naturally, Van Cleef & Arpels Alhambra and has been for more than 10 years. I have been wearing this necklace forever, even before knowing the family. During the day, I like to wear simple jewellery, but at night I like big, extravagant and over the top.
You’ve shot many prominent women. Of them all, which one most surprised you in terms of your perception of her from a distance compared to the reality of actually shooting with her?
I was impressed by all the models in the book [ Les Françaises], because they never revealed themselves in the way I thought they would. Some I expected to be very natural and shy, when in fact in front of the camera they became very strong, powerful and confident. This happened with Élodie [Bouchez]. I thought she would be very discreet, but she revealed herself in an extremely feminine way, playing with the camera… I could tell she was loving what was happening. I could also feel a strong connection during the shoot. Sometimes I would spend 45 minutes on a shoot and take some of the best pictures in the book, and sometimes I would spend a whole weekend. So, every model, every woman has a story and I really don't have any preference… they all belong to the same story and project.
How would you approach a self-portrait?
This is difficult because firstly, I'm not a model – I like being behind the camera. Being in front of the camera for me is a game. I like it because I like dressing up, but this is not my world. My world is behind the camera – deciding, controlling and having an overview of everything. So for me, it's a game. I try to have fun with it and I think that's what you can feel through the pictures in the book.
Are there any photographers you’ve wanted to shoot?
Well, I mean, I'm very classical; I like many young and old photographers. I like Paolo Roversi, I like Peter Lindbergh, and I also like Annie Leibovitz when she's working very simply and is very straight to the point. But yes, I would love to shoot any good photographer, young or old.
Who is your legend?
I would say I admire different people for different reasons. Alexandra David-Néel, because she was one of the first female travellers to explore the world. I'm impressed by what she has done. Also, my dad is my personal legend; my mother is my personal legend. I don't have just one.