Jean-François Jonvelle was born in the Provençal town of Cavaillon. From his studies - such as they were - he emerged with a simple diploma. He found his inspirations here and there, in the paintings of Balthus, Bacon and Schiele; but it was in the cinema that he found his true education, in the films of Mankiewicz, Lubitsch, Fritz Lang, Orson Welles, Arthur Penn, Vincente Minnelli, Hitchcock, Marcel l'Herbier, Tourneur and Truffaut, and more recently in Terry Gilliam's Brazil, which he claimed to have seen no fewer than eleven times. His favorite film of all was François Truffaut's Jules et Jim.
It was in 1959 that the photographer Georges Glasberg took him on a tour of the cathedrals of France, so initiating him into the world of photography and sowing the seed for what was to become his lifelong passion. At the age of 20, Jonvelle became assistant to the American photographer Richard Avedon. Then he turned freelance, always working around women, admitting freely that his only subject was the women he loved. In the 1980s he rose to prominence as the photographer for a publicity campaign that changed the face of French advertising and gave rise to the popular French catchphrase, 'Demain j'enlève le bas' ('Tomorrow the bottom comes off'). His photography for campaigns by Huit, Levi's, Barbara and Princesse Tam Tam was also to prove extremely influential. As one of his friends, the director of a well-known advertising agency, remarked: 'You can't exactly categorize Jean-François Jonvelle as a photographer of women, or even of girlie pictures. The world of girlie photos is a slightly murky one, lying somewhere between mildly guilty eroticism and a rather dated collusion, neither of which quite captures the modernism that was so distinctive about his work.'
In 1998, in preparation for his last film, Eyes Wide Shut, Stanley Kubrick was considering the question of the most 'real' way to film women. Having found one of Jonvelle's books, he invited him to come to Los Angeles with some of his pictures so that they could talk about them. And so it was that the scene set in the leading man's bathroom, with Nicole Kidman's character sitting on the toilet, was directly inspired by a Jonvelle photograph.
Jonvelle died in 2002. "When I photograph a woman", he used to say, "I want her to know that she is the most beautiful woman on earth, because a women who feels beautiful really is the most beautiful woman in the world."
Text in English and French