From Elle to Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, to Marie Claire and Nouveau Femina, Lionel Kazan (1930–2016) spent three decades making his mark in the industry at major fashion magazines in Paris and New York. Yet now, this Monaco native of Russian origins has been forgotten and underappreciated.
His daughter, Alexandra Kazan, an actress and television anchor—who has made history in her own right as the first weatherwoman on Nulle part ailleurs and host of Taratata—discovered her father’s legacy a few years before his death from Alzheimer’s in 2016.
The result was a coffee-table book, published by Lienart. She now honors Kazan’s work at the Charles Nègre Museum of Photography in Nice, where 80 photographs paint a picture of an era from the golden age of haute couture to the advent of ready-to-wear.
In the beginning there was a glance
Femininity, elegance, delicacy, softness, tenderness…: These key words spring to mind before the images of Lionel Kazan, born Lev Danielevitch Kazantzeff in Monaco, son of a Russian immigrant and a Polish mother. The exhibition focuses mainly on the 1950s and 60s, leaving out the 70s when he had eventually left the business.
“When I discovered his work, it was an emotional and artistic shock,” explains Alexandra Kazan. “He had never talked about it. He used to spend a lot of time in his studio where he made his own prints. No one was allowed in. When he became ill, I became his legal guardian. As he lost his memory, I began to work backwards. I would race against time to get him to impart whatever information he was able. After that, it was real labor of research and investigation. But in the process, I discovered my mother [Pia Rossilli] also had an amazing career: she was a supermodel who collaborated with such legends like Helmut Newton, Jules Jacquin, Guy Bourdin. She actually helped me design the book, which took three years to compose.”
Alexandra Kazan and the curator Sylvie Marot invited us to a splendid revival occupying two floors of the Nice museum of photography. The city, nicknamed “Little Russia,” was home to Lionel Kazan for part of his childhood, which he spent among the Russian diaspora settled on the Riviera. “This is all the more moving that the exhibition is a return to his roots,” noted Alexandra.
Eyewitness to an era
Lionel Kazan became passionate about photography at the age of twelve, when he was given a camera by the photographer and film director Marc Allégret. “I learned about this from a credit line in a magazine. [Allégret] gave it to him during the war, in 1942, when Kazan had refused to collaborate with the Germans and went down to Golfe-Juan. It’s mind-boggling, all the things I could have learned! My father, a stranger!”
A former graduate of the Technical School of Photography and Cinematography (now the École Louis-Lumière), Kazan worked as a photographer’s assistant to such icons as Horst P. Horst and Cecil Beaton. He collaborated with Hélène Lazareff, founder of Elle Magazine, with whom he shared Russian origins and struck up a close friendship. He created over a hundred covers for Nouveau Femina during their collaboration.
Kazan also did a stint at Marie-Claire and Jardins des Modes, following an active period in New York where he had worked for Vogue with Alex Liberman, a big shot at Condé Nast, as well as for Glamour, before joining the competition, that is, Harper’s Bazaar.
Three ways of looking: technical, sociological, aesthetic
From Dior’s New Look to Saint Laurent’s tuxedo and Cardin’s kinetic dress, Kazan’s portfolio covers the history of fashion, photography, making room, with a unique talent, for style, colors, materials, cuts, and movement.
Here, we leave behind the “academic” approach. The exhibition presents a thoughtful mix of photos (Ektas, Ektachromes, negatives, 6×6’s, 24×36’s), magazine work, and audiovisuals. Like an INA report from the popular Dim Dam Dom program, it features the photographer and his wife, and an interview with Claude Brouet, a leading fashion journalist.
“We return to the very nature of photography in what it represents in its materiality,” notes the curator. “I discovered the work of Lionel Kazan through a commission, namely photos reproduced as part of a magazine. It was then a race to find the right source and present the whole in excellent quality.”
Experts at Picto reworked some of the images to give them the texture of a “contemporary print,” while respecting the original rendering. “As the years go by, colors change,” reminds us Alexandra Kazan. “At a Parisian gallery, I had once exhibited a photo of model Bettina Graziani in a green dress. When Sylvie found the original magazine, we realized that the dress was actually blue.”
An artistic legacy
Romain Gary, Mike Nichols, Anna Karina, Monica Vitti, Françoise Dorléac, Catherine Deneuve, Jane Fonda, Brigitte Bardot, Sylvie Vartan, Suzy Parker: many legends figure in the Nice exhibition. The presentation focuses on the swinging sixties, Hollywood and French movie stars, and even film shoots, such as Otto Preminger’s Bonjour Tristesse, adapted from the novel by Françoise Sagan, where the set photographer was none other than the great Bob Willoughby.
During a photo shoot for Vogue US, Kazan captured top actors. Three unpublished photographs of Jean Seberg are presented in Nice, while one of the shots of David Niven and Deborah Kerr is included in Chronorama at Palazzo Grassi, a superb exhibition built around the Condé Nast archives acquired in part by the Pinault Collection.
While Kazan’s work, now of significant value, is rooted in its time, the image of Icelandic model Gudrun Bjarnadottir Bergese, headlining the show, remains impressively modern. “There are two others in the book, done in different styles, but we know nothing about this photo shoot,” says Sylvie Marot. “Another mystery is the 1966 Yves Saint Laurent shoot at Régine’s club New Jimmy’s, which we have reconstructed in space, because there are fewer and fewer witnesses to that era. We are, unfortunately, losing history, people, and people’s memories.”
Lionel Kazan ended his career in the 1970s, filing away a monumental, unique body of work that had helped shape “the civilization of the image.” “He no longer had the heart to do this job which he considered ephemeral, and he pulled back,” recalls Alexandra. “My father had whole other life, between his friends and his painting. The book and the exhibition are a duty of memory to my family, but also a way to restore his work to its rightful place.”
Exhibition : « Lionel Kazan. Un air du temps ». Until May 21, 2023. Musée de la photographie Charles Nègre. 1 Pl. Pierre Gautier, Nice.
Book : Lionel Kazan photographe, raconté par sa fille… Alexandra Kazan, Lienart Editions 2016, €40, 280 pp., 350 photos and illustrations.