Bettina Rheims


03 November 24 December 2023

“Thanks to Kim, I’ve never stopped working on the question of gender” B.R.

Meeting Alexandra Giraud, also known as Kim Harlow, a transgender woman dancer and cabaret revue leader, had a major impact on Bettina Rheims’ work in the early 1990s. While the series Modern Lovers (1990), showcasing the first images of Kim, enjoyed international success, the series Kim (1991) and Les Espionnes (1992) remained more confidential. The exhibition compares these three projects and retraces the friendship between Kim Harlow and the photographer, as well as her questioning of gender identity in the context of the AIDS years. Uncertainty and the idea of being at a tipping point are central to these images, reflecting the artist’s need to always be herself on the edge, between urgency and discomfort. These archives and never-before-seen prints reveal Bettina Rheims’ fresh take on her work and shed light on the process of making and selecting images. 

In January 1991, Bettina Rheims produced a series of photographs with Kim Harlow, who agreed to the idea of “becoming” Alexandre again, according to a scenario imagined by the photographer. This relationship of mutual trust led to a publishing project for which Kim Harlow, who died of AIDS in 1993, left a voice recording and a manuscript, a rare testimony that raises questions of truth and authenticity. 

Published in 1994, the book Kim immediately alludes to the substance of its content through its title and format: a deeply intimate work that gives Kim Harlow’s narrative a central place, overturning the idea of the photo book, which is yet essential to the photographer ‘s artistic approach.

Curator by Gabrielle de la Selle, curator of the photographic archives at the Institut pour la photographie, assisted by Lina Merad, curatorial assistant on civic service.

To coincide with this exhibition, the Institut pour la photographie and Editions delpire & co are publishing Kim Harlow, récits, the third opus in the Carnets collection and the first devoted to the work of Bettina Rheims. This book, which looks back at the special relationship between Kim Harlow and Bettina Rheims, offers a fresh look at the creative process through a selection of previously unpublished archives chosen by the photographer.
Format: 21 x 29.7 cm, square spine, 104 pages. Available in bookshops on 2 November 2023. Retail price: €35