British photographer David Hamilton has died in Paris on Friday night at the age of 83 after committing suicide, according to police sources.
Mr Hamilton,who had lived much of his life in France and whose works had appeared in high-end fashion magazines, was found unresponsive in his home by a neighbour who alerted emergency services, the sources said.
It comes as a French presenter who accused the photographer of raping her and several other victims when they were teenagers said his apparent suicide had denied them justice.
“By his cowardice, (Hamilton) condemns us again to silence and the inability to see him convicted. The horror of this news will never wipe out that of our sleepless nights,” said Flavie Flament.
Famed for his soft-focus portraits of unclothed girls, Mr Hamilton last week denied allegations by a French radio host and three other women that he raped them while they were in their early teens.
“Today I am the subject of no legal proceedings. This oversteps the presumption of innocence. I am innocent and must considered so,” he told Agence France Presse last week.
“The instigator of this media lynching is seeking her quarter of an hour of fame through slander. I will be filing several legal complaints in the coming days,” he said.
Flavie Flament, a presenter on RTL radio, alleged the photographer sexually assaulted her when she was 13 during a photo shoot at a nudist camp in Cap d’Agde, southern France, in the mid-1980s after persuading her parents to let him work alone with their daughter.
She recounted the alleged rape in a book, The Consolation, out last month. While she did not name Mr Hamilton in the work, she put his photograph of her as a young girl on its cover.
Last Friday, she confirmed she was referring to him after being contacted by other women with near-identical allegations.
“When I chose with my publisher to put this photo on the cover, I knew that it would prompt other testimonies. And I can tell you that I wasn’t the only one to have gone through this abuse, this rape by this photographer. I knew I couldn’t be the only one,” Ms Flament, 42, told France 2.
Credit: Olivier Strecker/Wikipedia
The case re-ignited a debate over the statutes of limitation for rape in France.
Currently, a woman cannot file for rape more than 20 years after reaching the age of 18. Ms Flamant said that the memories of the rape only returned to her when she was reaching 38 – too late to file for charges.
On Tuesday, Laurence Rossignol, French women’s rights minister, announced that she had nominated Ms Flament to conduct a “mission” to look into whether the statutes of limitation should change.
In interviews with Nouvel Observateur, the weekly magazine, two alleged victims recounted how a “smiling” Mr Hamilton – then in his fifties – had approached them while they were 13 and 14 and on holiday with their parents in Cap d’Agde, where the photographer had bought a flat.
They said he could be seen every day accompanied “without fail by a very young slim blonde girl walking up and down the beach in search of models”.
His posters were sold the world over and his postcards were on sale in all the seaside resort’s shops.
He had by then sold dozens of photographic books with combined sales well into the millions, five feature films, countless magazine publications and museum and gallery exhibitions.
“To be noticed by him was to be the chosen one,” they told the magazine.
“When he offered to do a trial shoot, my father was so proud, his eyes were twinkling,” said one.
She said the first took place in a small seaside flat on a terrace in the presence of her father and Mr Hamilton’s former wife Gertrude. However, for the second shoot they were alone.
“Can you keep a secret?” he allegedly whispered in her ear. “I was very uneasy and very intimated,” she told Nouvel Observateur, recounting how he went on to rape her. All said they were too petrified and shocked to react. One alleged he said afterwards: “You’re lucky I chose you because you’re not that beautiful. The others adore what I do to them.”
Ms Flament and the other women said they felt too “guilty” and “ashamed” to tell their parents.
“I thought my parents would be so disappointed if I stopped the photo shoots,” said the first girl, who continued to be “under his spell”.
Another girl told her parents she wanted to stop after two sessions.
The first girl told Nouvel Observateur that she had tried to forget the whole incident but that “it has had huge consequences on my sex life”.
“I had suicidal tendencies,” she said. In 1997, she filed a legal complaint against Mr Hamilton, who was quizzed on her allegations. He denied any wrongdoing and the inquiry was dropped.
She considered civil proceedings but was told she would have to forward 30,000 francs (£3,000) deposit. “I thought he was too protected that the fight was lost in advance, that it would ruin my life,” she told the magazine.
A third woman subsequently contacted Nouvel Observateur claiming that Mr Hamilton raped her in 1967 when she was 14 years old. The women said they were were constantly reminded of the alleged abuse when seeing his photographs of nude, underage girls in books and magazines – including pictures of them.
“It’s unbearable to see that he is still using us,” the second girl told the magazine. “Ah those famous Hamiltonian looks of melancholy. Now you know why they were melancholy,” she is quoted as saying.
Ms Flament and the first two girls worked out that they had crossed paths in Cap d’Agde. “The more numerous we are the stronger we’ll be,” Ms Flament told Nouvel Observateur.
Mr Hamilton’s work depicting early-teenage girls, often nude, he has been the subject of some controversy including child pornography allegations and bans in some countries. “Hamilton’s photographs have long been at the forefront of the ‘is it art or pornography?’ debate,” wrote one British newspaper.
In 2005, a man was convicted for being in possession of 19,000 images of children, including photos by Hamilton. The images were found to be in the lowest indecency rating.
In response, Glenn Holland, Mr Hamilton’s spokesman, stated: “We are deeply saddened and disappointed by this, as David is one of the most successful art photographers the world has ever known. His books have sold millions”.
Following the conviction, a member of the Surrey Police in Britain stated that possessing Hamilton books was now illegal in the UK. Surrey Police later made a formal apology for this statement and admitted that no legally binding decision had been made on the work of David Hamilton.
In 2010, a man was convicted of level 1 child pornography for owning four books bought in a London bookshop, including Mr Hamilton’s The Age of Innocence.
His conviction was overturned on appeal in 2011, with the judge calling his conviction “very unfair” and criticising the Crown Prosecution Service, saying if it “wishes to test whether the pictures in the books are indecent, the right way to deal with the matter is by way of prosecuting the publisher or retailer – not the individual purchaser”.