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Irina Ionesco (1930)

Irina Ionesco

The first time i saw the photographs by Irina Ionesco was the time she pre published a series of her daughter EVA in the french PHOTO magazine in the mid Seventies. SInce i always have been admiring her very personal style. Mostly black and white creating an almost “dark” atmosphere.


From circus girl to cabaret dancer to femme fatale before shooting to almost instant photographic notoriety in the 1970s, Ionesco is perhaps best known for erotic stills of her daughter Eva shot from age four to 11.

The why’s, wherefore’s and moral connotations of those pictures continue to stir debate across the blogosphere. “It was another time, another age,” says Ionesco, whose actress-daughter currently plans a movie on her mother, with Irina to be played by French star Isabelle Huppert.Ionesco’s theatrically gothic touch and sensual frames has made her a style icon for many designers. On show in Paris in June and July is a selection of fashion shots for houses such as Givenchy and publications such as Stiletto and Vogue Japan

Born in Paris to a violinist father and trapeze artist mother, Ionesco was abandoned at age four and shipped off to Romania to be brought up by her grandmother and circus family uncles.

She dreamt of being a dancer but with a tiny frame and supple body wound up a snake-lady contortionist, touring cabarets in Europe, Africa and the Middle East with two giant boas for seven years, from 15 to 22.

“I was a slave to the boas, in the end I’d had enough,” she says, recalling the fastidiousness of feeding the reptiles, keeping them warm and hauling them from hotel bath to hotel bath.

Then came a dance routine until a partner accidentally dropped her in a theatre pit in Damascus, Syria. Convalescing, she began to draw, then paint, but before moving to Paris to study art, spent time travelling with a very rich Iranian gambler, who showered her in couture clothes and jewels.

Photography came late — and haphazardly, like much of her life.

The old pre-digital-era Nikon F camera she still uses — along with tungsten lighting — dates back to Christmas of ’64, a gift from her partner of the time, avant-garde Belgian artist Corneille.

Self-taught, she took her first shots of friends and friends’ daughters using candles for lighting, setting 400 ASA film on 800 ASA, and emptying her cupboardfuls of cabaret costumes and fancy clothes to drape the models.

From obscurity she hit fame on her first show of 1970, featuring women in theatrical and often enticing poses draped in — sometimes very little — lace, beads and fake flowers and surrounded by fetishist bits and pieces.

“Irina Ionesco’s sexual world,” wrote French surrealist Andre Pieyre De Mandiargues at the time, “belongs to a space where there is no licence to touch. It is the world of dreams.” has some nice rarities available by Irina Ionesco.

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