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Be photographed like a Hollywood star at Studio Harcourt
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, French footballer hero Zinedine Zidan, and racing driver Michael Schumacher have all had their portraits taken here.
But don’t worry, so have people who are not in the public eye, but who want their own photographic portrait. At one time, it was very much the thing to do among the French upper classes who preferred the modern technology of photography to the age-old tradition of paintings. And it carries on today. It is very expensive, but the results are extraordinary.Continue to 2 of 4 below.
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Being photographed at Studio Harcourt
The studio is located in the smart 16th arrondissement, just near the Bois de Boulogne. It’s a suitably grand address for their clientele.
Entering, you’re greeted and led up a dramatic staircase with a red carpet into the main reception, 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. But you’re not ready for that yet.
The wonderfully theatrical setting produces the right effect. You step into the role, make sure your head is held high, walk a little more carefully, and yes of course, pull your stomach in.
You start with a specialised make up and hairdressing session in the bijou-like Studio Jean Cocteau. You come with whatever glamorous costume you want, or they can arrange couture sessions where you can pick your clothes (though that is an extra).
Then it’s through to the massive studio, with its... phalanx of lights and equipment. And this is where the genius of the studio comes into play.
You choose the style of photograph -- perhaps a classic pose, or something altogether more dashing? It’s up to you but the photographers are professionals and will suggest various possibilities.
In the past, when the likes of Jean Paul Belmondo were being photographed, the studio used different techniques, including stretching a ladies stocking (Dior of course) with holes burnt in it over the lens of the camera. With that in place, both soft and sharp focus shots became easier, with the nose and eyes sharply focused against the softer background.
Today they use the best digital cameras and lighting, but the principal is the same. The lighting is similar to that used in a movie set, coming from dozens of projectors. But it’s a gentle light, not harsh spotlights, produced by tungsten lighting cunningly placed around the sitter. No flash is used, so avoiding all the problems that come with flash. You can choose color, but black-and-white is the usual choice; after all that is what the studio is famous for.
After two days, the different photographs are produced for you to go over and make your choice. Two weeks later the precious portrait arrives, on artist’s paper and with the Harcourt signature in the bottom right hand corner that proclaims to the world that you have chosen the best.Continue to 3 of 4 below.
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A history of Studio Harcourt in Paris
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 at a time when other studios were closing as the Depression hit. Then Cosette Harcourt, who was married to one of the Lacroix brothers, decided to concentrate on cinema stars, predominantly French. The studio kept working through World War II and blossomed again after 1946, concentrating once again on the stars.
In 1991, the French government bought the collection of photos that Studio Harcourt had taken between 1934 and 1991. It 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. The old photographs are very different from today’s. In the 1930s movie stars were gods and goddesses; they stare into the... distance in a classic pose, with no smiles, passion or emotion showing. But it's your photograph and if you want to look like Brigitte Bardot or Alain Delon, that's your decision.Continue to 4 of 4 below.
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Practical Information about Studio Harcourt
6 rue de Lota
Tel.: 00 33 (0)1 42 56 67 67
Website (in French)
You should book at least two weeks in advance, but if you arrive in Paris with little time, they can (within reason) accommodate you and produce the finished portrait quickly in time for your departure.
The cost starts at around 1,000 euros and goes up to around 4,000 euros. The Studio also offers a service photographing your pet (which is considerably cheaper!)
You can also buy Studio Harcourt Champagne and their own perfume. They also do wedding portraits and small group portraits. And if you want (and can afford it), the studio with all its splendid paraphernalia will come to you.
A Studio Harcourt Photographic Booth
Studio Harcourt has also developed a very clever photo booth that takes very good photographs using their technical know-how, without flash but with special lighting. They currently have one of these special booths in Paris at MK2 Bibliotheque cinema, 128-162 avenue... de France, Paris 13. Tel: +33 (0) 8 92 69 84 84.
Watch out for their sessions in some of France's top hotels. Information on those is on their website.