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Celebrity photographer lights up Paris museum

He’s photographed Princess Diana in diamonds, Madonna in lingerie and top model Gisele Bundchen in the buff.

But celebrated French photographer Patrick Demarchelier says none of the hundreds of pop culture icons he’s immortalized in his more than 30 years behind the lens can compare with his dog, whom he calls “the perfect model.”

An exhibition at Paris’ Petit Palais museum brings together more than 400 of Demarchelier’s renowned portraits, including, of course, a ravishing shot of Puffy the long-haired dachshund.

Looking sprightly in his uniform of sneakers and a polo shirt, with his trademark shock of salt and pepper hair, 65-year-old Demarchelier insists the show is not a retrospective.

“It’s a step along the way, a work in progress,” he told The exhibit, which runs through Jan. 4, shares space with the museum’s permanent collection – making for some strange bedfellows.

Demarchelier’s bathing beauties – sleek, headless torsos caught mid-dip – swim among the marble busts and Greek vases of the museum’s antiquities wing. Upstairs, a model in thigh-high lace-up boots strikes a pose atop a reclining cow that looks like it jumped out of the bucolic landscape by 19th century painter Gustave Courbet that hangs alongside it.

The museum’s director said Demarchelier initially resisted the idea of juxtaposing his pop culture icons with the Petit Palais’ enduring artistic treasures.

“He’s a modest guy and he was pretty embarrassed at first,” said Gilles Chazal, adding with a wink, “I think he’s gotten used to the idea.”

Demarchelier grew up in the northern port city of Le Havre. A self-described “bad student,” he took up photography in his teens after his stepfather handed him an old Kodak camera. American Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar gave him his first big break, but it was his iconic black and white portraits of Princess Diana from the early 1990s that made Demarchelier a household name.

The series, featuring a relaxed and radiant Diana, occupy a prominent place in the show, but with star power radiating from every wall, the people’s princess gets a run for her money.

A wild-maned Angelina Jolie competes for attention with a similarly decoiffed Tom Cruise. Bill Clinton rubs shoulders with Rudy Giuliani, Susan Sarandon and a radiant Elton John. Model Helena Christensen straightens Valentino’s tie. Disembodied hands cup Janet Jackson’s naked breasts.

Madonna’s here in many of her chameleonic incarnations: the leather-clad tough girl of the early 1990s, Warren Beatty’s glam girlfriend, the raven-haired mystic of her “Ray of Light” days.

But it’s the more intimate personal images that are the most touching: A 1987 family portrait with Demarchelier, his wife and sons; landscapes of the vast African veldt; a soulful Puffy.

“It’s a perfect photograph,” Demarchelier said of the 1999 snap of his furred friend. “When you’re photographing people, you try to make them forget about the camera. Puffy doesn’t know what a camera is, so he’s perfect all the time.”

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