Olivier Dassault’s Arresting “Haute” Photography
The French lensman produces photographic tours-de-force
Olivier Dassault was 14 years old when his little sister was born and he started taking photographs of her—as well as of his girlfriends—and a life-long passion was born. He thought of making photography his career. But his parents—the Dassaults—one of the most prominent French industrialist families, had other goals for him. “I was told I should be an engineer first, and then after, I could do whatever I wanted,” recalled Dassault, with the affable demeanor that suits his success as a political figure and depute, elected to the Assemblee Nationale, or French Parliament. Nevertheless, he persevered, and in 1975, sent his dossier of photographs to a notable art competition. “I was refused,” he recalled, “and although I had hoped they would just look at the photographs, I realized that a name can open or close doors.”
Dassault then formed an advertising agency when he found himself being more of a copywriter than a photographer, he sold the agency and launched both his political and artistic careers. But that is all past history. Today, Dassault receives visitors in his new showroom in Paris’ 8ème arrondissement where his large-scale works—sophisticated collages of his photographic slides that are turned into vibrant and colorful abstractions—cover over the high-ceilinged white walls. Even there, camera in hand, he surveys the buildings across the avenue, in the same way he focuses his camera on a wide range of subjects, homing in to a particular detail—a wall in Marrakech, Morocco, a building façade on a Parisian street, a garden in New Delhi, India, a streak of light in Shanghai, China. The details are then manipulated digitally and turned into complex abstractions.
Dassault called the large-scale works “haute photography,” a fitting play on the haute couture houses such as Dior, Chanel, and Pucci, which are some of his neighbors on the Avenue Montaigne. “I am like the artists of the Renaissance, who needed commissions for castles and churches,” explained Dassault, who enjoys working with clients to create special works for particular spaces. “Custom work makes you do things you would not do otherwise,” he added. This past fall, two ambitious exhibitions focused on his work: On October 8, a retrospective opened at the Capazzo gallery in Nançay, France, and pieces he described as “monumental” were on view in the Jardin Rouge at the Montresso art foundation, situated about 12 miles from Marrakech. That surely says something on following one’s heart.