It is impossible to detach the work of Irina Ionesco, who died in Paris on July 25 at the age of 91, from the scandal aroused by the photos she took of her daughter Eva, enrolled from the age of four by her mother in bets. in a sexual scene. In the 1970s, the photographer had gained recognition and a certain success in the art world with her baroque and erotic images, peopled with femme fatales posing in the middle of busy decors. Before, in the 2010s, this sulphurous aura changed into general disapproval of the pedophile nature of certain photographs. Her daughter Eva, who has long fought to prevent the dissemination of images of her where she is sexualized, ended up winning a lawsuit against her mother in 2015 and settled accounts with her stolen childhood, in 2010, through a film. critically acclaimed fiction, My little Princess, with Isabelle Huppert.
Photographer Irina Ionesco herself had a troubled childhood, which she recounted in the book The Eye of the Doll (Women’s Editions, 2004). Born in Paris in 1930 to a violinist father and a 16-year-old trapeze artist mother, she was quickly neglected by her parents. At the age of four, she moved to Constanza, Romania, with her grandparents, where she successively experienced Nazi and then Russian occupation. She spoke of her family situation as a “false incest”: she discovered late that her father Adolfo was in fact her grandmother’s second husband, and that he had had an affair with the minor daughter of this last, from a first marriage.
Back in Paris in 1951, Irina Ionesco first began a career in cabaret, where she performed as a contortionist, with boas or knives, leaving for long tours abroad. Linked for a time to the painter Guillaume Corneille, co-founder of the Cobra movement, who gave her a Nikon camera, she embarked on photography. She poses heavily made-up and jeweled women, in very theatrical black and white photos, full of crosses, candles, flowers, lace – vaguely surrealist scenes which combine in an end-of-the-century atmosphere both the sex, death and religion. Her first exhibition at the Nikon gallery, in Paris in 1974, earned her a scandalous success, and she subsequently published her photos widely in the press, making the cover of magazines that claimed to be artistic, such as the review Photoor downright erotic, such as the magazine Playboy.
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