In 1958, after seeing And God Created Woman—the movie that made Brigitte Bardot an instant star—Raymond Cartier, the editor of Paris Match, was flustered. He wrote an eight-page essay that concluded, “Bardot is immoral, from head to toe.”
Bardot certainly didn’t look like the proper and put-together women of her time. She wore her hair in disarray, sat with her legs open, and bit cigarettes while she smoked, so they dangled on her lower lip. In America, Marilyn Monroe was making waves with her beauty mark and blond curls. In France, Bardot attracted attention with her pout and blond beehive.
She was born in 1934, two decades before the emergence of New Wave cinema. Though Bardot had trained to become a ballet dancer, by 15 she was on the cover of Elle. Three years later, in 1952, she married the aspiring filmmaker Roger Vadim. When he cast her in And God Created Woman, the first film he directed, her role as the sexually liberated Juliette Hardy clinched her status as the era’s sex symbol.
Bardot didn’t meet Douglas Kirkland, a Canadian-born American photographer who had photographed Monroe before her death, until 1965. She was in Central America on the set of Louis Malle’s Viva Maria!, and Kirkland was assigned to cover the project. The two stayed in touch, and he traveled with her a few months later on a chartered flight to the States. Kirkland captured her in taxicabs and a leopard-skin coat, channeling her excitement as she explored Manhattan for the first time.
Kirkland and the English photographer Terry O’Neill both worked on the set of Shalako, a Western that starred Bardot and Sean Connery. O’Neill had already taken photos of Bardot during her first encounter with Connery a few months earlier, at the Deauville film festival. She wore a lumpy sweater and a flower in her hair while Connery taught her how to play golf. “I had two of the best-looking people in the world at my disposal,” O’Neill said of that day. After Shalako, and until her retirement, in 1971, O’Neill would shoot Bardot on various occasions, including on set for Les Novices and Les Pétroleuses (known in English as The Legend of Frenchie King).
O’Neill died in 2019, and Kirkland died last year. In the new book Being Bardot: Photographed by Douglas Kirkland and Terry O’Neill, their classic images of the actress, along with previously unpublished ones, are paired with an introduction by James Clarke. —Elena Clavarino
Being Bardot is out now from ACC Art Books
Elena Clavarino is the Senior Editor at AIR MAIL