Faces: Thérèse Le Prat

Thérèse Le Prat
Thérèse Le Prat

As a makeup artist, I love faces – that goes without saying. But I don’t just love a pretty face with makeup on it – there are interesting faces everywhere, and all kinds of ways to look at faces, too!


Thérèse Le Prat (1895-1966) is a French photographer whose work I recently discovered. She loved faces – you could say she was obsessed by them – and for those of us who also love faces, her work is a marvel.


After experimenting with landscape and portrait photography, Thérèse Le Prat concentrated on photographing faces. At first, she was photographing stage actors (her first two books, Visages d’Acteurs(1950) and Autres Visages d’Acteurs(1952) are remarkable documents of the post-War theater scene in Paris.)


But then her work turned more abstract – she had actors perform for her camera, at first with masks, then with makeup alone. In exploring the face, Thérèse Le Prat looked to reveal extremes of human depth and emotion. And she added words to the mix: her later books include both prose and poetry to push the exploration further. In Masques et Destins(1955), her first book of these portraits, she and her actors searched for photographic expression of the extremes they played out on stage.


For Un Seul Visage en ses Metamorphoses(1964), she spent three years with the mime Wolfram Mehring and makeup artist Grillon exploring myriad ways of seeing a single face. And she continued her most expressionistic work with diverse faces until her death, after which the photographs were published as En Votre Gravité, Visages(1966).


Her work is new to me, but I think it’s inspired others in the know: looking through her work I can see Serge Luten’s poses and poetry, Cindy Sherman‘s clown transformations, and Pat McGrath’s grittier makeups.


Here are a few images from her last two books, Un Seul Visage en ses Metamorphoses(1964), and En Votre Gravité, Visages(1966):


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