Birkin and Gainsbourg: Dusting off the Family Album

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24th Oct, 2013

For anyone who still dreams of the swinging sixties with its wild child chain-smoking rockstars and sexually charged style icons, here’s something that might feed your flame. Taschen has released a new nostalgia-filled photo book, Jane & Serge: A Family Album. Jane’s brother, screenwriter and director Andrew Birkin, is behind the camera and all the fascinating little captions that tell the story of each photograph. He hung around quite a bit during Serge and Jane’s passionate twelve year affair and snapped thousands of rarely seen and never-published family photos during those years. Let’s take a peak…

“This is one of my earliest photos of Jane and Serge’s time together. It was at a press lunch in 1969, hosted by the French night club owner Regine to publicise her new club. Je t’aime hadn’t come out at that point, so they weren’t a known item. Jane was unknown in France and Serge wasn’t yet the figure he subsequently became, but he still managed to direct the attention toward himself. The thing that stands out in my memory was that little Kate was there (Jane’s daughter with the film composer John Barry). I was 21 at that point and childless. Kate was the joy of my life and she is in many of the photos in the book. Jane had recently split up with John Barry, so Kate was effectively fatherless – it was my first experience of children.” 

“Jane is at my parent’s cottage in 1972, in the Isle of Wight during the Christmas holidays. Jane is laughing at my dad, who is off camera. He’s wearing a load of cotton wool as a beard and a red beach towel and pretending to be Father Christmas.”

“This is taken in Normandy. Jane is taking the photo, using my camera and little Charlotte is nursing her rabbit.”

Right: “This is taken in 1978. Jane was sad because she was giving up the house in Chelsea that John Barry gave her when they got divorced, as part of the settlement. But it was only a ten year lease. There are other shots of Serge in the series, looking equally glum.”

“This was taken at my mother’s dressing table. I was about 17 years old and about to hitchhike across America. I wanted a photograph to remember Jane by. She looks so different here, she was still wearing the heavy make-up of the Sixties.”

“This is taken at Nice train station – we were about to take the sleeper back to Paris. He was sad about leaving her (Jane) and you can see a touch of his Russian melancholy. We spent most of the journey drinking fine wine and trading confessions. It was the year after they’d met (1969) and Serge’s English wasn’t very good. Neither was my French.”

“This is a photo of Jane and Charlotte on the crossing to my parent’s cottage in the Isle of Wight. Jane met Serge on the set of Slogan in the summer of 1968. She would come back from the set with stories of how rude Serge was being – at least that’s what she said.”

“This is Nana, Serge’s Yorkshire Bull Terrier, which Jane bought him as a present in England. He said he liked Nana because he looked beautiful next to her. He had her for about six years, but I think she died from eating too many sugar almonds. Serge would throw sugar almonds across the room and Nana would skid across the polished marble floor after them. Most French people thought she was a pig.”

Left: “Serge was always mugging around for the camera. This was taken in Serge’s house on the Rue de Verneuil, when he was writing I’ve Come to Say Goodbye. Charlotte still owns the house – she hasn’t altered it since he died in 1992 and Jane’s belongings are still in there.”

Right: “I’ve always loved photography and Serge is very photogenic, as well as being happy in front of the camera. I tend to take photos in an unobtrusive manner, taking a few shots and then putting the camera away. If you are behind a camera, you’re just observing and you aren’t participating. There were moments when I didn’t have the camera on me and missed extraordinary moments. But you can’t caputure everything and if you did have a camera it would change the moment anyway”.

“This was taken in a taxi in Cannes, where Jane was publicising the film La Piscine. I do wonder if they would have been as famous individually as they were together. Serge had recorded Je t’aime for Brigitte Bardot, but she begged him not to release it after they split up. If one is being super cynical, you could argue that if he hadn’t met Jane he’d have asked another girl to record it. Whether it would have been as good who can say, but the song wouldn’t have been known outside of France. Jane was seen as a girl who came from conservative stock, part of London’s Swinging Sixties scene and an English rose. Serge was portrayed as the dark Gallic French man, leading her astray. That was an electric combination.”

For your coffee table, Jane & Serge: A Family Album

€ 39,99 at Taschen.

 

 

 

 

 

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