“I declare the independence of imagination and the right of Man to his own madness,” the inimitable Salvador Dalí once declared. “Football is only pretty when you have no idea what’s going to happen,” the great player –and now coach– Zinedine Zidane has stated. “It’s not riches or splendour, but tranquillity and work, that bring happiness,” the mythic actress Marlene Dietrich reflected. And we could go on quoting many more illustrious people, celebrities who apparently may not have many things in common except their genius different fields. That and a not-so-chance visit to the Studio Harcourt Paris.
Lights, camera, action… The images created in this artistic universe at 6 rue de Lota are a genre in themselves, a symbol of glamour and elegance. Pure talent and class. For decades now international idols have come here –and posed– but the fact is that anyone can get in front of these cameras. “Studio Harcourt is world famous for being the studio of the stars, but it’s open to everyone!”, its secretary general, George Hayter, told Ling. “Anyone who wants to spend some time getting a portrait done in unique circumstance. Whether it’s an individual picture or a family picture, a portrait from Studio Harcourt is a treasure that’s passed from generation to generation. It’s a concrete memory of an exceptional experience, with all the tender care of our team,” he adds with passion. Because Studio Harcourt has demonstrated a passion for photography since its founding in 1934.
Writers, filmmakers, athletes, painters, singers… The legacy of this firm, which still evokes the golden age of its large and refined rooms, is legendary. The idea came from photographer Cosette Harcourt, the Lacroix brothers, and Robert Ricci: they wanted to observe life in a sublime black-and-white with their own unique style, which is even used today in some photo booths in Paris. It’s no surprise that philosopher Roland Barthes wrote in his 1957 book Mythologies that “in France, no actor can be considered as such without first having been photographed by Studio Harcourt”. And so the myth continues to grow, as close-ups of faces are immortalised by the light from cinematographic projectors. The house’s peculiar chiaroscuro creates an all-enveloping atmosphere. The magic of Hollywood also exists in Europe.
“Since the creation of the Cosette Harcourt studio, our portraits have always been signed ‘Harcourt Paris’,” says secretary general Hayter. “For a foreign model, it’s a symbolic way of showing his friendship with France. Many heads of state and government have asked us for their ‘Harcourt’ portrait. For example, I would like a portrait of King Felipe and Queen Letizia of Spain, which would marvellously illustrate the ties between France and Spain.” Because in spite of its history and its more than 5 million negatives, there are surely more photos to take. And in this dreamlike setting nothing is impossible. The scenery, the lights, the furniture and everything else that captivated the stars –and thousands of anonymous people in search of their moment of glory– have made Studio Harcourt into an eternal reference point in the French capital.
Besides travelling there, it’s possible to learn more in the 2014 book Harcourt Paris. Le Mythe. 80 ans, a work of the film producer Dominique Besnehard and journalist Guillaume Evin, which enshrines the place’s enormous artistic heritage. And without seeing the whole catalogue, it’s worth mentioning some of the many famous names. Alain Delon, Jean Cocteau, Rita Hayworth, Edith Piaf, Brigitte Bardot, Ingrid Bergman, Mónica Bellucci, Laetitia Casta, Halle Berry, Cate Blanchett, Rafa Nadal, John Malkovich…
Who knows, maybe we may be the next on the illustrious and unending list at Harcourt, the studio of the stars. Because here, in radiant black-and-white, everyone shines.