Since the first project of photographer Bettina Rheims's 35-year career — a series of photos of Paris's strippers and acrobats — the Parisian and self-identified feminist has reimagined the lens through which we can view the female body. Her just-released eponymous book from Taschen showcases some 500 of Rheims' most striking images.
Sexual but never objectifying, even when skin is exposed, Rheims' photographs hint at the rich interior lives of her subjects — from celebrities such as Milla Jovovitch and Heather Graham to relative unknowns.
"I shoot women because I know them, as I’m a woman myself," Rheims recently told PhotoWhoa, of her instinct to document femininity in its many forms. "I understand their fears, I have their same hang-ups, I make the same dreams. It’s more exciting for me to penetrate a woman’s mind. It’s like doing a self-portrait."
Rheims has not shied from controversy, capturing subjects from models simulating orgasm to transgender youth to Jesus Christ as played by a woman. (The last project, I.N.R.I., unsurprisingly, drew vehement Catholic ire.) Still, the provocative nature of her work isn't the goal — it's a byproduct of her quest to draw out her subjects' emotions.
"I usually shoot following my instinct and trying to get something personal from my model," Rheims explained. "I think that’s what makes my image 'sexual.' I don’t think that 'sexual' means 'erotic' but it’s like you’re reaching something deep, unknown and secret in someone."
Click through to view 15 fearless photos from Rheims' new book.