Valérie Belin (b. 1964, Boulogne-Billancourt, France) uses photography to explore the human body as a powerful vessel for abstraction and projected meaning. She has photographed live models and mannequins, masks and cardsharks, dancers and bodybuilders all while referring to the central theme of reality vs. artificiality. Belin questions the construction and fetishization of mainstream beauty ideals and enduring gender constructs.

In each of the artist’s series, individual images mirror each other while offering subtle differences. In Black Eyed Susan (2010-13), models embody the ideal of Western feminine beauty, yet they defy complete uniformity through superficial differences in each image: slight differences in the angles of their gaze, hair and eye color, lipstick shade, and the floral motifs superimposed atop the model’s bodies create an illusion of individuality. Through this juxtaposition, Belin’s photographs address the phenomenon of simulacra and simulation, a process through which the boundaries between reality and illusion are clouded and representations of reality lose resemblance to real events. In today’s world of technology and media consumption, audiences increasingly project and accept edited, staged realities as real life. Belin’s work highlights this collective fantasy by theatrically performing the very processes that drive mainstream media. 

Her 2016 series All Star continues these investigations into superficial constructions of beauty and reality, incorporating a mental world that is chaotic, saturated, and obsessive. Belin fashions and photographs her models in a style reminiscent of film noir and overlays the photographs with elements from vintage comics and her own graphic patterns. These women look real to viewers but exist in the simulated, fantastical world of superheroes and mythology, and the glimpses viewers are seemingly afforded into their minds suggest they have embraced this hyper-reality. The artist's latest series China Girls premiered in 2018. 

Belin’s work has been exhibited extensively both domestically and abroad, including solo exhibitions at the Peabody Essex Museum, Salem; Huis Marseilles, Museum of Photography, Amsterdam; the Maison Européenne de la Photographie, Paris and the Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne. A major retrospective, Les images intranquilles (Unquiet Images), was on view at the Centre Pompidou, Paris in 2015. Her work is in collections at The Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; Musée d’art Moderne de la ville de Paris; Kunsthaus Zürich; Los Angeles County Museum; Museum of Modern Art, New York; and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Belin was awarded the Paris Photo prize in 1997, The CCF (HSBC) Foundation for Photography Prize in 2000 and the Prix Pictet in 2015. Since 2009, she has been honored with the chevalier position of France’s Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. Edwynn Houk Gallery premiered her series Painted Ladies at Paris Photo 2017. Belin lives and works in Paris.