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The Questionnaire : Denis Piel by Carole Schmitz


Denis Piel : Never too controversial

Born in the 40s, Denis Piel grew up in Australia and studied in the USA.
Although he doesn’t remember the subject of his first photograph, he does recall that it was with a Brownie Box camera given to him by his stepmother. He was 15 at the time. His camera soon became a permanent accessory.
He made his name mainly in the 80s with his innovative editorial work for Vogue, GQ and Vanity Fair magazines.
His style is distinctive, and he directs his models like a filmmaker directs his actors. His images are sensual, sometimes lush and sexually charged, but never vulgar and, above all, dreamlike. He undeniably loves THE woman and captures their image in a very personal way.
In 1987, he was awarded the Leica Medal of Excellence for commercial photography.
After undeniable success in photography, Denis began to explore the world of film, and in 1985 founded Jupiter Films, a film production company that quickly achieved international success.
In 1995, he directed his first documentary, Love Is Blind.
He has also published a number of books, including: “Moments” in 2012 with Rizzoli, a beautiful book featuring his fashion photography and portraits. Then “Down to Earth” in 2016. And in 2020, “Exposed”, “Filmscapes” and “Platescapes”.
On the occasion of his eightieth birthday, A.galerie in Paris pays tribute to his immense and incredible work.
A must-see until May 4, 2024.

4 rue Léonce Reynaud
75116 Paris


Your first photographic trigger?
Denis Piel : My stepmother, Mary, bought me a box brownie camera and encouraged me to look here, there, and everywhere before clicking. I was fifteen.

The man or woman who inspired you?
Denis Piel : Irving Penn and Robert Frank inspired me with their diversity. They never stopped searching and exploring. But those who most influenced my work were filmmakers like Kubrick, Antonioni, Hitchcock, Kurosawa, and especially Satyajit Ray with The Apu Trilogy. But also, again, he was very diverse in his explorations. ` However, many artists, mainly Balthus and Matisse, also seduced me. In short, I was attracted to and influenced by many talents.

The image you haven’t made yet but would like to?
Denis Piel : To be explored. I’ll find out.

The one which moved you the most ?
Denis Piel : My film project Love is Blind moved me most. I followed a blind couple for their first year of marriage.
Inevitably being a photographer where my sight is my life, the idea that one would fall in love without seeing the other lead me to exploring love in all its aspects and blindness. From that moment on, my interest turned to developing personal projects that had meaning for me. Also, as a young man, I had a severe car accident where I lost my sight for several months—indeed, an influence

The one which made you angry ?
Denis Piel : The word “anger” is a little extreme, but when I see a beautiful Beauty image that I’ve taken, retouched to the point where it diminishes the person’s character, it’s disappointing. I love the lines in a face which encouraged me to pursue my project, Facescapes where I get in extreme close-ups to reveal the human condition. FACESCAPES reveals the commonality of the human condition, a way of looking at the mileage on the human clock.

A key image of your personal pantheon ?
Denis Piel : My first significant advertising campaign was when I started my studio in Brisbane, Australia, in 1966, where I began telling stories.

Fly on the Wall © Denis Piel

A photographic memory of your childhood ?
Denis Piel : Unfortunately, I lost most of those images. When I moved to the USA, the shipment of my worldly goods was jettisoned when the ship was caught in a storm.

The image which obsesses you ?
Denis Piel : I don’t obsess.

With no budget limit, what would be the work of art you’d most like to acquire?
Denis Piel : Irving Penn – Nude No. 131, NY, 1949-50 Platinium print.

Courtesy Irving Penn Foundation

If not limited to photography the image I would pick is. “L’origine de monde” by Gustave Courbet

Which inspired several images of mine.

Down To Earth No.3 © Denis Piel

Down To Earth No.17 © Denis Piel

Down To Earth No.24 © Denis Piel

What do you think makes a great photographer?
Denis Piel : To constantly look and see with new eyes. It takes training.

The secret of a perfect image ?
Denis Piel : The one you would like to take but does not ever really happen.

The person you’d like to photograph if you had the chance?
Denis Piel : Gerhard Richter, who inspired me with his technique, which inspired my Padièscapes project. (

The photographer you would like or would have liked to have your portrait taken by ?
Denis Piel : Irving Penn.

A must-have photo book?
Denis Piel : It would depend on your point of view personally, there are none.

Your favorite drug ?
Denis Piel : Swimming.

The best way for you to disconnect?
Denis Piel : Swimming, a good cigar in a quiet moment.

What is your relationship with images?
Denis Piel : Very personal and diverse.

What do you see when you look at yourself in the mirror?
Denis Piel : An ageing man who I’m slowly recognising.

Your greatest quality ?
Denis Piel : Perseverance, Concentration, and Optimism.

Your latest folly?
Denis Piel : A yacht trip sailing from Lanzarote to Antiqua. It was a trip I had always wanted to do. It reminded me of how easy my life was compared to my parent’s trip when they immigrated by ship from France to Australia just after WWII.

An image to illustrate a new banknote?
Denis Piel : Before the end of these ten years, I believe there will be no more paper money. Meanwhile, portraits of today’s environment would be a  good idea.

The job you wouldn’t have liked to do?
Denis Piel : A job that would not allow me to follow my heart and be independent.

Your greatest professional extravagance?
Denis Piel : The freedom to follow my ideas.

The city, country or culture you still dream to discover ?

Denis Piel : There are many places and cultures to discover, but we should question our diverse cultures. We have so much to explore around us.

The place you never get tired of ?
Denis Piel : Chez moi when the garden is blooming. Planning and planting a garden are something you do for future generations. The key is vision and then patience. And always anywhere where I see the sea.

Your biggest regret ?
Denis Piel : I did not appreciate more all of what I had been given.

In terms of social networks, are you more into Instagram, Facebook, Tik Tok or Twitter, and why?
Denis Piel : None of these seriously attract me. I’m thinking of unsubscribing from them all. Recently, I’ve been using Instagram for my latest project, Padièscapes. I also recently experienced an image being rejected from LinkedIn (post removed for adult nudity and sexual activity) when I announced my present exhibition, based on what? Stupidity! And a lack of education.
For people to see my work, I’d rather they explore my website: It has lots of diverse work, including a virtual gallery.
To see my current exhibition visit:

Color or B&W ?
Denis Piel : Both it depends on the subject or intention.

Day light or studio light ?
Denis Piel : Existing light at the time of shooting.

Which city do you think is the most photogenic?
Denis Piel : New York has diverse people and buildings, for pure beauty Paris.

If God existed, would you ask him to pose for you, or would you opt for a selfie with him?
Denis Piel : If god/s actually exist, I would ask them to do selfies with the bodies from Ukraine, Israel and Gaza.

If I could organize your ideal dinner party, who would be around the table?
Denis Piel : From the Past : Stanley Kubrick, Carl Jung, Mikhail Gorbachev, Golda Meir, Jawaharlal Nehru, Miles Davis.
Today, they are still living. Barack Obama, Gerhardt Richter, Judi Dench, Elon Musk, Inger Andersen, Dolly Parton, Bill Gates, Julian Assange and my wife Elaine Merkus, and son Olivier Piel.

The image which represents the current state of the world ?
Denis Piel : The millions of photos taken and displayed every day on social media.

What’s missing in today’s world?
Denis Piel : Education, Collaboration, Empathy.

If you had to restart ?
Denis Piel : Exciting concept. My life has been full of chance, adventures, and boundless opportunities. To restart, I could only ask for the same minus a few hiccups along the way.

A last word ?
Denis Piel : Life is a great gift, and we should be aware of it more often despite all hardships.

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