Photo archive Bettina Rheims

The French photographer Bettina Rheims (born in 1952) has entrusted the Institut pour la photographie with her archives, an extensive body of work representative of photographic creation since the 1980s.

Including more than 300,000 phototypes, Bettina Rheims’ collection is particularly well referenced and organised. It includes all of her prints as well as negatives, contact sheets, polaroids, technical shooting sheets, handwritten notes, etc. The images are accompanied by her paper archives which enable her photographic work and projects to be documented. Her library and publications relating to the works also form part of the collection. This donation heralds a close collaboration between the Institut pour la photographie and Bettina Rheims, who wants to share her experience and participate actively in the Institut’s programme of activities.

An internationally renowned photographer, she is famous for her elaborate staging that reveals her sense of perfection and her interest in narration and disorder. For several decades, she was commissioned to work on fashion and advertising campaigns, celebrity portraits (Charlotte Rampling, Catherine Deneuve, Madonna, Monica Bellucci, and more), and has worked with international magazines. At the same time, she has developed her own personal work that challenges contemporary society.

Her series are the result of carefully considered projects which sometimes involve a great deal of production. Bettina Rheims mainly takes her shots indoors, especially at her studio, where a great variety of professionals come together for the photo shoot. This is where she devises original stories, validates her prints, and builds her projects. The photographic book forms a major part of Bettina Rheims’ work because it is the final result of each series, representing real work on narration and presentation.

Bettina Rheims’ work can be found in many public collections in France and overseas. Her work has been exhibited at prestigious contemporary art museums. Her retrospective at the Maison Européenne de la Photographie in Paris attracted more than 60,000 visitors.


Bettina Rheims (born in 1952 in Neuilly-sur-Seine, France) developed a passion for photography at a very young age, learning the art of darkroom printing as a teenager. Later, she trained with photographers such as the reporter Walter Carone. Her career as a professional photographer began in 1978 at the age of 26, after working as a model and journalist.

Her first portraits were of major figures and she found herself commissioned for her first fashion and advertising shoots. In 1980, she photographed strippers at Pigalle and acrobats and these series became the subject of two personal exhibitions in 1981 at the Centre Pompidou and at the Texbraun gallery in Paris. In 1982, she began her Animal series, featuring black and white portraits of stuffed animals from the Deyrolle shop in Paris.

Alongside her commissions for magazines, film posters and record sleeves, she also worked on her own body of work in which she considers femininity, gender and identity with the series Female Trouble (1989), Kim (1990) and Modem Lovers (1990). This period also saw her working closely with the novelist Serge Bramly for Chambre Close (1990-1992), Bettina Rheims’ first major colour series. This collaborative work continued with /./V./t.È (1998) and Rose, c’est Paris (2010), which earned the photographer international acclaim. Narration plays an important role and is an integral part of her work, immersing the viewer in a universe whilst also helping them to create their own interpretation.

On a completely different note, she produced the presidential portrait of Jacques Chirac (1995). She was awarded the Légion d’honneur by Jacques Chirac in 2007.

During the 2000s, Bettina Rheims once again tackled the question of gender, the central theme running through much of her work, with the androgynous bodies of Gender Studies (2011). This period is also marked by three trips to Shanghai with Serge Bramly, in which she portrays women torn between a society undergoing deep change and the country’s traditional culture (Shanghai series, 2003).

During the 2010s, encouraged by Robert Badinter, she discovered the conditions of imprisonment of women in France with the series Détenues (2014) composed of fifty portraits of women in prison. More recently, she explored the question of the female body as a political tool and immortalised the Femen movement with the series Naked W’or (2017). In 2021, with the donation of her collection to the Institut pour la photographie, she left her Parisian studio where she had worked for almost forty years. To preserve a reminder of this unique place, a Virtual Visit project offers the chance to tour the photographer’s studio (link to the VR).