JANE & SERGE: a family album by Andrew Birkin

As humans, we are often stuck in some form of limbo purgatory. The time we don’t spend looking towards the future is often compensated with the desire to stick our heads into the past. We find ourselves dusting off the old family albums, laughing at the "good old days" and envying the carefree act of being young and naïve whilst also wishing it was the Saturday to come.

Now, at a time where it is so easy to store and access images on the online world, there seems something pure about tucking away old printed photographs in little plastic wallets. We all love looking back and longing over the years we can’t reach. But, it’s usually your own family – rather than a family of strangers – that we tend to reminisce over.

In current times, as it’s so easy to view the lives of celebrities through the internet, we often believe that we know everything about their lives. We forget that a still image or short video clip cannot possibly reflect every 24 hour day in a 7 day week of a 365 day year. But Andrew Birkin, younger brother of the actress, singer and namesake of the popular Birkin bag Jane Birkin, has given her love affair with French singer Serge Gainsbourg this family treatment.

In a book consisting of 160 mostly unseen photographs, Andrew shares his take on France’s most glamorous couple with his own view down the camera lens. The nostalgic images spin us back to the ever-so desired swinging sixties and seventies; each snapshot paired with a short caption to help tell the story of Jane and Serge’s public and passionate 12 year love affair that stole the hearts of a generation.

Jane Birkin, although based in France, was born in England in 1946. After a short marriage to composer John Barry, with whom she had her oldest child Kate, she met Serge Gainsbourg whilst working on a low-budget French film, Slogan, in Paris. At first, it was a relationship based on hatred. He was playing the part of her lover, yet he came across arrogant and Jane believed he despised of her. Just days later, however, he was accompanying her to dinner – at which Andrew (and his camera) was present.

The pair, along with young Kate, moved south to St Tropez in 1969 in order for Jane to take up a part as an actress in the French film La Piscine. Andrew, his camera strapped to him at all times, embarked on this trip with them. It is pictures he captures at times like these that line the pages of this photo album. Images that show the couple as two, down to earth human beings rather than two of the biggest stars to walk the streets of France. It really is the optimum of the French phrase c’est la vie.
1969, also documented in the album, was the year of Je T’aime Moi Non Plus. This famous duet, recorded by the pair, is a song that was both suggestive and controversial but at the same time, completely captured people’s attention in the best of ways. By August, the track had been banned by the Vatican, the BBC and even the Pope as its eroticism and heavy breathing was considered shocking and inappropriate. This dispute, of course, sent it sailing up the charts where it earned the number 1 spot in England and the number 2 spot in Ireland.

Another key event in the Gainsbourg-Birkin timeline that Andrew captured within the walls of the album is the birth of the pairs only child, Charlotte Gainsbourg. So it was during these pages that three became four – or five if you wish to count Serge’s Yorkshire Bull Terrier Nana, a present in England from Jane who lived alongside her, Serge, Kate and Charlotte.

Now, decades on, we can witness the four as they grew as people. It’s the intimate moments that make this so real: the couple in the back of a taxi in Cannes, Serge pulling faces as he sits playing piano in their apartment, Charlotte nursing a small rabbit amongst the grass and Jane and Kate making the crossing to the Isle of Wight to visit her parents.

As people, we all love reading the words of a good page turner, a book that will capture our imaginations or act as something we can relate to, but we often forget photographs can tell just as much of a story as our words can. It’s the power of Andrew’s album, documenting from their earliest days until their 1980 split that allows us to act as a frequent presence in their lives, as if we too are their relatives in a nostalgic attempt to relive a time that is just out of reach.

Jane and Serge: A Family Album by Andrew Birkin features an introduction by Jane herself, illustrations by Andrew, 160 unpublished family photographs as well as an added contact sheet booklet, fold out poster, five photo prints, a sticker sheet, and an embroidered patch.
You too can be a French Chanteuse and help to fan the flames of the highly public love affair that was Jane and Serge.

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