Here is a question for all you Francophiles: Can you name the person voted France’s most popular photographer in two separate polls? Henri Cartier Bresson, perhaps? Jacques Henri Lartigue? Robert Capa? Wrong, wrong, wrong.
The answer is David Hamilton, an Englishman. Who he, you may well ask. Well, if you have ever eaten at Club 55 on Pampelonne Beach, for my money the finest beach bar in the world, you may have noticed a rather distinguished old gentleman in the corner in a linen suit and a panama hat. This is Hamilton, who moved to St Tropez when Bardot was at the height of her fame and stayed ever since. (He winters in Paris, but doesn’t everybody?)
Hamilton is famous for his rather fuzzy, soft-focus pictures of young girls in various states of undress. His posters and calendars have adorned a thousand bedroom walls. His favourite models are thin, pale girls, many of whom he finds in Scandinavia. He wouldn’t like me, despite being half-Swedish I’m too dark and too old.
In North America and even Britain, in fact probably just about everywhere apart from France, Hamilton has become something of a hate figure. His work, say his critics, reeks of paedophilia, modern times’ most hated crime, but two new editions of his photographs have just been published.
Personally I’m amazed the French love him so much, if he were a book he’d be a Mills & Boon. My favourite is Henri Cartier Bresson. I once met him, he was related to my uncle. It was in a restaurant in Rome and my aunt (just for a change) was trying to make me eat something I didn’t like. “Why is it adults are always forcing children to eat what they don’t want?” he asked. A truly great man, and his photos weren’t bad either.
Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2007