Jean Claude Deutsch is a French photographer who began his career just as any other photographer, essentially taking any of the assignments that came his way. Of course, this all changed when he got exclusive pictures of the newly married couple, Brigitte Bardot and Gunter Sachs.
In a career that has spanned over four decades, Mr. Deutsch has worked predominately with Paris Match magazine where he got to photograph celebrities, sports figures, politicians, religious leaders and so many more. Those he has lensed include David Bowie, Luciano Pavarotti, Jane Birkin, Jane Fonda, Catherine Deneuve, Tom Cruise, Charlotte Rampling, The Rolling Stones, Yves Saint Laurent, Pope John Paul II and the list goes on and on…
Although it’s hard to follow-up an introduction like that, we are going to try. One way to do it, is by turning this over to Jean Claude.
MalenDyer: What drove you to pursue Paris Match until they ultimately hired you in 1965?
Jean Claude Deutsch: Since I was a young boy, I wanted to work for Paris Match. I always wanted to be a photographer and this newspaper in France, [was comparable to the stature of] Life magazine in the US. Apart from the fact that it was the number one magazine in France, it was also representing – in the minds’ of people (and mine) – an easy way of life, going to fancy hotels and restaurants, meeting prestigious people…
MD: Can you share with us details on one of your early assignments – covering Brigitte Bardot’s wedding to Gunter Sachs?
JCD: I have a fun story about this assignment. Bardot was on holidays with Gunter Sachs in Deauville [France] just after they got engaged. Paris Match sent me to cover the vacation as a paparazzi. While I was hiding, trying to get some shots, I got busted by Bardot. Strangely, she didn’t get mad, and we started chatting. She finally became a friend, accepted me as a photographer and I spent a few days in the private life of the newlyweds.
JCD: Paris Match was so happy to get those pictures, in exclusivity, and that’s when everything started to escalate in my career.
MD: In those early years, as you were forming relationships with those you captured, how did you handle those moments when you knew a deadline was approaching and you didn’t yet have your perfect shot?
JCD: I simply explained that I didn’t have the right images to be published in the newspaper. Most of the time, the people accepted and gave me more time. In those days, things were easier with the celebrities – they weren’t in a constant rush like nowadays. And, they were really happy to pose for the most famous magazine in France.
“I have always tried to let my subjects live the moment and be natural in front of my camera.”
MD: Your images seem to capture the moment versus being staged or with a static pose in a studio, was this a perspective or direction you looked to capture or how did it find its way into your work?
JCD: Indeed, I have always tried to let my subjects live the moment and be natural in front of my camera. Sometimes, we didn’t have the choice, [if we] were lacking time. But, I have always liked the fact that I was living with the people, and I was photographing the reality. That is why in several of my shots, you can see celebrities with their dogs, in their bathtubs or shaving in their bathroom, for example.
MD: Photographing individuals can be an intimate moment, how did you work to form relationships with so many individuals?
JCD: I was just being me, and most of the time I had a great feeling with my subjects. Celebrities at that time were more open-minded and working with them was easier than today.
MD: What are your thoughts on the current trend of everyone with a smart phone seemingly capturing the moment themselves?
JCD: I think it is a great tool, especially for news and information. Everyone can be a reporter nowadays with their smart phones and take great photos. But, for other type of photography like fashion, tourism etc., we will always need photographers.
“For photography like fashion, tourism etc., we will always need photographers.”
MD: How have you had to evolve your own photography style throughout your career? Or, have you had to?
JCD: I have always kept the same way of working, which is photographing people in their daily life, to capture real moments.
MD: With such a vast career, what are some special moments you could share with us – any story that sums up a particular moment or always brings a smile to your face, for example?
JCD: It is hard to tell, as I have so many! The thing that always brings a smile to my face is thinking that I have spent days with really prestigious people that normally no one could approach, like the King of Morocco, The Sultanate of Oman, Lady Diana, [among others].
JCD: Most of the time, the people working with them are scared and stand to attention, but for myself, I was literally directing them – telling them how to act in front of the camera, where to go, which pose should they strike. I just didn’t care who I had in front of the camera, I just wanted to make great pictures of them in their private life.
MD: What did you find most fascinating, in general, about those you have photographed? What was/is the allure of photographing those you have throughout your career?
JCD: Not much, I have never [held them as an] idol or something. Photographing Mick Jagger or my wife was for me the same thing.
“I have always kept the same way of working, which is photographing people in their daily life, to capture real moments.”
MD: What lesson or advice have you learned that you wish you knew when starting out?
JCD: A few times, at the very beginning of my career, when I had a big assignment with important people I was sometimes stressing out. And, because of that I have made little (but ridiculous) mistakes, like forgetting to put film into my camera. So, I learned that a photographer needs to have a “prework” routine so that they are fully ready and don’t forget anything.
MD: Lastly, is there anyone that you have yet to photograph that you would love the opportunity to capture?
JCD: No one comes to my mind. I had the chance to shoot the greater people in their fields.
And, we would have to agree with you, Mr. Deutsch.
Editor’s Note: Mr. Deutsch’s son, Ilan Deutsch Levitan, assisted us in translating this interview.