Her Art Was Her Photos. She Didn't Take a Single One

'New Yorker' profiles Isabelle Mege, who sought out artists to photograph her
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 22, 2016 11:31 AM CDT
Updated Sep 25, 2016 3:32 PM CDT
Her Art Was Her Photos. She Didn't Take a Single One
A screenshot of Isabelle Mege from an excerpt of a documentary about her by Jerome De Missolz called 'I (comme) Isabelle.'   (Vimeo)

You've likely never heard the name Isabelle Mege unless you're plugged in to select photography circles. But from 1986 to 2008, the French woman was a prolific artist of sorts in the field. Except, as the New Yorker explains, Mege wasn't a photographer herself. She was the subject. Mege became intrigued by photography as a young woman and began seeking out photographers she admired to take her photo in whatever manner they wished. "J’aimerais m’apercevoir à travers votre regard," she would typically write, meaning, "I would like to see myself from your point of view." By the time she stopped her project in 2008 at age 42, she had roughly 300 images of herself (or parts of herself) by renowned photographers. She has whittled them down to 135 in what she calls "the collection," which has been seen by fewer than five people, writes Anna Heyward.

“Mège’s collection is very coherent,” says Henri Foucault, one of the last to work with her. “Right now, no one outside really knows about her. But I think, as time passes, we will hear more.” Mege, now 50, was never a professional model—instead, medical secretary—and never exchanged money with the photographers. One, Jean-Luc Moulène, says even the artists she sought out "don't know quite what she's done. She posed—yes, she posed for me. But exactly what she’s made we don’t quite know ... and it’s impressive.” Mege herself seems to shrug off the artist's label. “I just wanted to make photos," she tells Heyward. "It was audacious—really, I was just a person who responded to a feeling I had. Others were willing to follow it, too.” Read the full story here, which includes some of the images. (More photography stories.)

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