Don't miss a unique opportunity to explore normally private rooms of Château de Versailles, where creative force Karl Lagerfeld is currently exhibiting his atmospheric black-and-white photographs of the gardens.
The German designer Karl Lagerfeld started shooting his own advertising campaigns in 1987. Now, 21 years later, he is exhibiting his black-and-white photographs of the gardens of the Château de Versailles, titled "Versailles in the Shadow of the Sun."
Karl Lagerfeld is determined to prove that there is more to his photographic skills than high-glam fashion photography. With this aim in mind, he has made a series of black-and-white images of the gardens of the Château de Versailles, just south of Paris.
The resulting exhibition is titled "Versailles in the Shadow of the Sun," and it runs from June 10 through September 7, 2008 on the first floor of the château in the apartments of Madame de Maintenon, who was a mistress to Louis XVI. These unfurnished rooms are normally closed to the public and have been reorganized for this exhibition, which is part of the tour of the Grands Appartements.
The 40 pictures on display, which Lagerfeld selected with Jean-Jacques Aillagon, the president of Versailles and former culture minister, express his personal vision of the gardens. Capturing variations in light and perspective, they include images of the sculptures, fountains and the château's architecture.
Developed on vellum paper and mounted without frames or glass, the photos have undergone a special photographic treatment in line with the old style of printing to better evoke the heritage behind the subject.
In this interview, Lagerfeld discusses his life-long interest in Versailles, its fairytale attributes and cultural influence, his dislike of museum cities, and the role that chance can play in photography.
How did the idea or the desire to make a series of photographs about Versailles come about?
You know, I knew Versailles long before coming here. I've been immersed in this era ever since my childhood. I discovered Versailles through Palatine's letters, which were written in old German. To annoy my parents, I would talk to them in seventeenth-century German. I also daydreamed a lot in front of a painting that represented Sans-Souci, the castle of Frederick II of Prussia, which copied the Versailles style. And I remember a photo of my mother, taken 10 years before my birth, where she was disguised with a white wig as the Knight of Eon.
Why are you interested in Versailles?
Versailles for me is a place that doesn't have a reality – it's another world, like Greek mythology. What I like is the idea of things. Versailles is a world that actually existed but that speaks to our imagination. The first time I came here, I discovered a place that I had imagined for a long time before discovering it.
Do you see Versailles as a mythological place?
What I see in Versailles is a world of pagan allegories. Versailles is not a real place of Christian religion. Versailles is also the real incarnation of a fairytale, like the brothers Grimm. I hate these castles, these inane places from the Middle Ages that we also associate with fairytales.
Don't you find these empty gardens sad, abandoned and melancholic in the rain?
No, not at all. A place that stimulates so much curiosity cannot be dead. And don't forget that I'm from the North, so I'm used to these landscapes. And the word "melancholy" can have so many different meanings.
Where does this affinity come from for French taste from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries?
To be more French than the French, you need to be foreign. People are caught up in the torment of nationality. As a foreigner, I can look at things from a distance. The French mind is easier to understand for me than for a French person. When I'm here, I'm not abroad. It's a universe I know and that I can observe in a detached way.
For me, the French culture expressed in Versailles is that of refinement and the achievement of a European movement. Versailles had an immense influence, to the extent that the whole world wanted their little Versailles but it only led to awful copies. Where I lived before, I had a magnificent room restored that had been decorated by Jacques Verbeckt, a great eighteenth century sculptor who had worked at Versailles.
Do you perceive this world that has disappeared as a lost paradise?
You shouldn't compare eras. But you should know that in 1709 there were 600,000 people who were dying of the cold and of hunger in France, and that didn't prevent the king and the court from partying. And in the Hall of Mirrors, we often forget that fatal events happened here for the future of the world, such as the declaration of the German empire in 1871 and the signing of the Treaty of Versailles in 1919. All of that led to catastrophes.
What do you think of the King's Room? Do you find it too overdone with this red and gold brocade?
All of that doesn't come from anywhere. You shouldn't judge the past with an eye from the present. There was a meaning to all of that, and the clothes went with it. Right now, with our modern clothes, we aren't at all at home in these places. Clothing is the quickest and most immediate way to express the style of an era. There's a power of unbelievable evocation. At the start of the twentieth century, Albert Kahn placed a camera at the crossroads of Paris and filmed the road for several years. Looking at these images, you realize that what changed in the décor was above all the clothes of the passersby. The rest – the architecture, the cars... – remained more or less the same.
What do you think of the introduction of contemporary art into ancient monuments?
I'm against places that don't move. A city that only thinks of its past is a dead city. Like Venice. Paris is beginning to become like that, a museum-city. One morning, I was at home in Paris, on the quai Voltaire, along the Seine. I opened the window and heard the commentary from the Bâteau-Mouche [tourist boat], which said, "Here live Mr. and Mrs. Chirac, Carla Bruni and Karl Lagerfeld." I was astounded. It was as if I'd become a figure in a museum.
How do you know if a photo has succeeded?
You know after it's been printed. You can have some very nice surprises. Sometimes chance is a very good photographer. Photography is something graphic, composed like a drawing or a picture. The moment when the photo is taken is something short, that you cannot analyze. It's a spontaneous act, where chance plays [a part]. It's both very complicated and very simple. Helmut Newton said, "If I thought of what everybody said about my photos, I wouldn't do photography any more."