A photograph produced by Studio Harcourt is something very special. Hollywood stars like Marlene Dietrich, Salvador Dali, Brigitte Bardot and more recently, Jean Paul Gaultier, Princess Rania of Jordan, John Malkovich, Spike Lee, French actress Sophie Marceau, and racing driver Michael Schumacher have all had their portraits taken here.
People who are not in the public eye, but who want their own fine art photographic portrait, make up the majority of Studio Harcourt's clientele. At one time, it was the thing to do among the French upper classes who preferred the modern technology of photography to the age-old tradition of paintings. While a Studio Harcourt portrait is a splurge, the results are extraordinary.
What Happens During a Portrait Session
In the entrance, you’re greeted and led up a dramatic, red-carpeted staircase to the main reception, which is a high-ceilinged room with black-and-white portraits on the walls. To your left is a seating area; ahead, a gallery with more portraits and an Art Deco bar. To your right, large doors reminiscent of a 1930s cinema lead into the large studio.
Your portrait session starts with a specialized make-up and hairdressing session in the bijou-like Studio Jean Cocteau. You can come with whatever glamorous costume you want, or—for an extra charge—they can arrange couture sessions where you can pick your clothes.
The style of photograph is up to you—perhaps a classic pose, or something altogether more daring? The photographers are professionals will be able to suggest a variety of possibilities. You can also choose either a black and white or color portrait, though black-and-white is the usual choice; after all, that is what the studio is famous for.
In the past, when the likes of Jean Paul Belmondo were among Studio Harcourt's clients, the studio used improvised techniques, such as creating a soft-focus effect by stretching a ladies stocking over the lens of the camera. Today, they use the best digital cameras and lighting, but the principle is the same: The lighting is similar to that used in a movie set, but it’s a gentle light, not harsh spotlights.
After two days, the proofs are ready for your review and, two weeks later, your precious portrait arrives. Professionally printed on artist’s paper, with the Harcourt signature in the corner, your portrait proclaims to the world that you have chosen the best.
The Studio was created in 1934 by Cosette Harcourt, the Lacroix brothers, and Robert Ricci, Nina Ricci’s son. In the early days, the studio produced pictures for the press and managed to stay open during the Depression, at a time when other studios were closing. Cosette Harcourt, who was married to one of the Lacroix brothers, made the decision to start attracting more work with cinema stars. The studio once again weathered difficult times during World War II, but blossomed again after 1946 and resumed its business of photographing film stars.
In 1991, the French government bought the collection of photos that Studio Harcourt had taken between 1934 and 1991. The collection comprised about 5 million negatives of 550,000 people and 1,500 celebrities. Studio Harcourt and the French government occasionally put on exhibitions of the photos. Otherwise, you can buy the book, Studio Harcourt 1934-2009 by Francoise Denoyelle.
6 rue de Lota
You should plan to book at least two weeks in advance, but if you arrive in Paris with little free time, they can accommodate you (within reason) and expedite the finished portrait in time for your departure.
If you are interested in less expensive souvenirs from Studio Harcourt, you can pick up some of their branded Champagne or perfume. The Studio also offers the service of photographing your pet, which is cheaper than having a human portrait done.
To bring fine-art style to important event portraits, the Studio can create wedding and even small group portraits. And if you want, the studio with all its splendor will come to you.
A Studio Harcourt Photographic Booth
Using their expertise in lighting, Studio Harcourt has also developed a clever photo booth that takes very good portraits without using a flash. Catch one of their sessions in some of France's top hotels. Information on those is on their website.
They currently have one of these special booths in Paris at:
MK2 Bibliotheque cinema
128-162 avenue de France