A new coffee table book collects the work of two of fashion's most influential photographers - and the women they've immortalised
A new coffeee table book collects the best work of photographers Mert and Marcus
If by chance you saw last month’s edition of Esquire, with a smouldering Penélope Cruz on the cover, then you will already be familiar with the work of the photographers Mert Alas and Marcus Piggott. Or Mert and Marcus as they are known by their fellow inhabitants of the fashion firmament, across which they have blazed a starry trail since the turn of the century. (Once you command the attention and admiration — and budgets — of the biggest designers, stylists and creative directors, you can safely drop the surnames.)
But who are we trying to kid? You were well aware of the work of fashion’s favourite photographic duo long before Esquire showed up — fashionably late to the party as ever. Even if you didn’t know their names you’d seen their photos.
Mert and Marcus don’t merely shoot campaigns for the most famous names in fashion: Giorgio Armani, Fendi, Miu Miu, Gucci, Saint Laurent, Versace, Givenchy. They are a brand in their own right, with their own distinctive style — glossy but hard-edged — and a subject to which they constantly return: the female form. Mert and Marcus’s women are beautiful and powerful, often nude or semi-nude, their skin glistening, eyes flashing, and they project a kind of cosmic sexual confidence. Madonna, J Lo, Gaga, Rihanna, Naomi, Cara, Kate, Linda, Angelina, Gisele, Björk: Mert and Marcus have shot them all, often as well as they’ve ever been shot. It’s quite a feat, that, to take the most photographed women in the world and see them anew, make them look even more glamorous, even more seductive.
Of course, their rise coincided almost exactly with photography’s switch from film to digital, and the opening of the Pandora’s box of Photoshop, but that’s hardly the only reason for their success. Many fashion photographers have become slaves to the airbrush and the retouch, and their subjects,
as a result, have ceased to look attractive, largely because they have ceased to look recognisably human. Mert and Marcus are masters of the technology; their women are improbably gorgeous, but not impossibly so.
Mert Alas, from Turkey, and Marcus Piggott, from Wales, met in 1994, at a party on a pier in Hastings, Sussex. The story goes that Marcus asked Mert for a light, and the rest is very shiny history: three years later they had converted a derelict loft in east London into a studio, and were shooting for Nineties London style bible Dazed & Confused. Future work appeared in British biannuals Pop and Love (the British stylist Katie Grand, who founded both those magazines, was a key collaborator) and by now they’ve photographed covers for every significant fashion magazine you’ve ever heard of, and Playboy.
The photos on these pages are from their new book, a giant retrospective of their work called simply Mert Alas Marcus Piggott. (Maybe surnames are making a comeback?) Published by Taschen in a limited edition of 1,000 copies, priced at £450 each, the book is a hefty investment (weight-wise and price-wise) but well worth the effort. This season, no coffee table will be able to call itself stylish unless it’s holding them up. Alex Bilmes
Mert Alas and Marcus Piggott Published by Taschen, £450, out now