by C. Madaio
Jacques Bourboulon was born in 1946 in Vautorte (Northwestern), France. Had he not narrowly escaped death when he was 12, the world would not have seen his stunning landscape and glamour pictures because it was his near-death experience that led him to a photographic career earning him accolades and enormous satisfaction. He points to a scar on his head and explains, in heavy French-accented English, how an accident he had when he was 12 caused him to slip into a three-month coma. It was a miracle he survived as his doctors said that 99 percent of people with such head injuries usually die or become a vegetable.
Although photography was of greater interest to Bourboulon, after graduating from school he decided to travel to New York and earn a living for a while playing the organ in the neighborhood church. However, upon returning to France in 1967, he returned to his first love, photography (although he continues to stay interested in music to this day). As he’d stated:
When I was 19 or 20, I decided that I couldn’t make a career in music. At about that time I saw a picture ‘The Apple and the Peas’ taken by Sam Haskins with a Pentax. It was a very memorable picture and I promptly went out to buy my first camera. …. For the first ten years I was very poor. I spent every penny I had on films, products and chemicals to produce photos.
…and from a 2010 Interview:
Without any knowledge of photography, he simply reads the instruction manual. “I’ve never taken a course, never been an assistant. But when one begins to immerse oneself in the photo world, one must be prepared to die for it. It’s a passion which can cost dearly; and it’s necessary to keep on doing it and doing it.”
Bourboulon’s big break came when he was given the opportunity to try fashion photography. His “eye” was so good it was featured in leading French fashion magazines like Vogue. That also earned him the chance to work for renowned couturiers (specialized fashion designers) such as Dior, Feraud and Carven.
After several years, he found this work too restrictive and sometime around 1974 began doing erotic/nude photography with young women and girls. This subject was, as always, his first love, an avocation that began during his teens with him taking photos of classmates. With respect to leaving fashion photography, he stated an interview with Rebel (circa 2004/2005), “…Fashion was a world too closed-up, too ‘codified’ for me. I needed space to dedicate (myself) to erotic photography”.
He’s had numerous models, but one of his earliest and most famous was Eva Ionesco¹ – daughter of Irina Ionesco (who’s had several portfolios of Eva published herself). Eva, as photographed by Jacques Bourboulon, has been published in a number of books and magazine pictorials. The more significant of these (with or without Eva) were: A Portfolio of Eva (Ionesco) published in 1981—Eva is approximately 14 in this portfolio; Coquines, published in 1982; Attitudes, published in 1984; 17 by Stevenson, published in 1985; and Mélodies, published in 1987.
Although Eva Ionesco was the most well-known of his models, she wasn’t the only one—a list that includes Alicia, Jutta, Valerie, Lea, Vera, Carita, Maria, Suzanna, etc.
Jacques Bourboulon always preferred non-professional models; as he himself describes in an interview with Zoom on what he looks for in a model:
As far as the young girls, my affinity for them is how I choose them. It is also possible that the act of working with young girls lets me express myself more easily. First, I must say that I detest [professional] models, not as women but because it’s their profession. There’s nothing of naturalness, of freshness; they have a way of expressing themselves, of moving about, without any freshness whatsoever. I watch myself that I don’t push the girls I work with to become like that. …
…[I select] only those girls who are from school, who are hired, and then whom return to school. I work with all these girls, not only one time, but for years. I know them, I know their parents, they receive me, it’s a continual contact. The first that I’d discovered; it was 7 years ago. She was 12 years old, 19 now. She’s continued to come see me at Ibiza, not forcibly to take photos; there was never any ambiguity.
With respect to continuing photo sessions: “I explain to them what I do, I show them the photos. They are at times astonished, but two months after they’ve received the photos, I write them, and when they re-see them, everything becomes simpler.”
Most appropriately, he also states about his erotic photography: “I enjoy it. I love it and it [helps] cultivate happiness,” he says. “For me I photograph flowers and I photograph girls. I photograph girls like I photograph flowers because they are both beautiful.”
And, quoting from an interview in another magazine, “He prefers young girls he finds by chance on a voyage, a night out, or crossing the street.”
As far as technique is concerned, he uses (from another interview) primarily:
“…a Pentax,” (later a Contax RTS) an 85mm lens, and Kodachrome 25 (later Agfachrome RS)…. 5 months a year in Ibiza, in an old farm of the 13th century, lost (hidden) in the back-country that he has rents and has lovingly restored (almost stone by stone) …. Ibiza, which he loves profoundly because of climate, the superb lighting, and the possibility of taking different photos. He passes almost twelve months of the year there—the sea and the mountains in sight, the ease of access (next to Paris), and it’s not too expensive!
Bourboulon took most of his glamour photography during this period (the next 12 years) in Ibiza (Spain); which became his natural studio.
In 1980 he published his first book, Des Corps Naturels. He has since published another 20 books (6 in Japan) of which 400,000 copies have been sold worldwide. For the next 30+ years, he also produced calendars, (Pentax 1987, BASF 1988, 1992, etc), postcards, posters, illustrations, photos for publicity and over 160 exhibitions around the world.
Around 1985, having received hundreds of letters from amateur photographers familiar with his work through his publications, exhibitions and books, Bourboulon decided to dedicate part of his time to the public with a passion for photography. For the big international photographic shows, he organizes conferences, workshops, diaporamas and exhibitions in Tokyo, Sydney, Auckland, Cyprus, Cologne, Brussels, Stockholm, Paris, Madrid, Barcelona etc. His public appeal draws crowds and the photographic magazines regularly publish his work. These workshops continue to this day.
In the late ’80s, Bourboulon, preoccupied more and more with perfection, turned toward landscapes. As he stated in a 1996 interview in Chasseur d’Images (French photo magazine):
“I didn’t choose to become a landscape photographer; it is the landscapes themselves that drew me in. In fact, I feel now the same emotions towards nature that give me the same feelings as in my past career. Three years have passed in which I’ve traveled through the world looking for unique scenics…on foot, in a vehicle, on small roads, under the rain, sun or under the last rays of light” … New style, new habits, JB has discovered his new subject: “Contrary to the woman, where one can repeat the same poses indefinitely in the same place, nature never repeats itself. … The magic instants only last for a few a seconds.”
However, he continued to stay involved with glamour/erotic photography. At the turn of the century much of his new and prior glamour/erotic photography was published on a well-known erotic website known as mosteroticteens or MET. He also had his own website from 2003–2008 (remnants of which can be found here).
Nowadays, Bourboulon has continues to receive acclaim for his photography of young women/girls and landscape photography. However, he’s had his detractors both then and now, and as the hysteria (and legal pressure) continues to grow regarding nude photography of teenage girls, the detractors become louder and more obtrusive.
In answer to the question of publishing books beyond the existing 24, he has no other plans but to inspire others to look at the world differently more. He states that he had spent about five years on research before the publication of each book. For the time being he is pretty contented with life on the lecture circuit and doing his own personal photographic research.
What about inspiring others to take up photography seriously? Jacques says it is not at all easy. There is no tried and tested formula. You have to,
Follow your passion. And you must be ready to die for your passion. You must be prepared not to sleep for six days for your passion. And you cannot be an artist if you cannot dream or be passionate. -Benard Quek
Many thanks go out to the people who contributed to this article: The artist’s agent who provided the background materials; the two French readers who transcribed the hard-copy materials; Mr. Madaio for translating and then composing this article; and whoever it was who scanned the Mélodies images saving me the trouble. Without their help, this post would certainly have remained unpublished for a while.
Because this artist’s age range lies mostly outside the purview of this site, images posted in this article come exclusively from Mélodies which features the youngest girls from his portfolio. -Ron
Selected Photo credits of Jacques Bourboulon:
• Zoom (French photo magazine) published Jan 1976 (Issue 34)
• Oct 1976 – Playboy (Italian Ed.) – Classe del 1965 (the Class of 1965) – a major pictorial of Eva Ionesco. At 11 years old, she is the youngest to ever appear in Playboy (Italian Edition only)
• Zoom (French photo magazine) published September 1979 (Issue 64) – Images des Petites Filles (Images of Little Girls) – including Eva
• 1980 – His first photo book, Des Corps Naturels, (Natural Bodies) is published in France by Filipacchi. It included sonnets by Serge Gainsbourg -noted French singer, songwriter, poet, painter, writer, etc.
• 1980 – Conte des Fées (Tale of the Fairies), a lower quality book of photos by Bourboulon is published in Japan
• 1981 – Portfolio of Eva (Ionesco). She’s approximately 14 in this portfolio
• Coquines – Photobook published in 1982
• Photo Reporter Features & Interviews – Nov 1982 (Issue 49) & Nov 1984 (Issue 73)
• Attitudes – Photobook published in 1984
• 17 – by Stevenson – Photobook published in 1985 (a few photos of Eva)
• Mélodies – Photobook published in 1987
• 1994 – Jacques Bourboulon photo book
• 1996 – Photografier le nu (Photograhing the Nude)
• 1996 – PhotoArgus – Interview and feature
• 2004/2005 – Rebel magazine feature and interview
¹ Eva Ionesco herself has been the subject of numerous articles and a 2015 book, Eva, written by her current husband, Simon Liberati. In the book, written entirely from Liberati’s observations and point of few, but with a few 2nd-hand quotations from Eva, her tumultuous childhood as a nude child model from the age of 5 and “loose” lifestyle is portrayed. How her youthful lifestyle has led to her current persona is also described. Liberati focuses mainly on Eva’s relationship with her mother, Irina Ionesco, upon whom both he and Eva have heaped a considerable amount of scorn for her profiteering from her daughter. Jacques Bourboulon is only briefly described in this book as one of the “nude photographers”, but no insight is given in this book on her relationship with photographers other than her mother.