Dutch courage

Neue Luxury - - News - PHO­TOG­RA­PHY By Paul Tier­ney

Inez van Lam­sweerde and Vinoodh Matadin are two names that are quite a mouth­ful. Be­tween them, the Dutch pho­tog­ra­phers boast ten tongue-twist­ing syl­la­bles. Like the pho­to­graphs they pro­duce; fash­ion images, por­traits, ad­ver­tis­ing cam­paigns, their names have be­come syn­ony­mous with a space be­tween nor­mal and strange, light and dark, self ex­plana­tory and the mys­te­ri­ously glam­orous.

It’s hard to pick up a magazine of any worth these days and not see their work. Bear­ing trade­mark clar­ity and in­ge­nious flair, their pic­tures jump off the page, grace myr­iad bill­boards and fil­ter into pop­u­lar cul­ture with enor­mous con­fi­dence. When you see their work— pre­cise, beau­ti­fully lit, im­mac­u­lately ex­e­cuted and brought to life by mod­els and ac­tors who know they are in good hands—there is no doubt who is re­spon­si­ble. They strad­dle the po­lar­is­ing worlds of art and com­merce, blur­ring the lines of which is which, and in this sense they stand alone.

Inez and Vinoodh, as they are known to the wider world, defy easy cat­e­gory, and this ‘oth­er­ness’ has served them well, cat­a­pult­ing the duo into the up­per ech­e­lons of their in­dus­try. Emerg­ing from Am­s­ter­dam’s Fash­ion Academy Vogue in the late 1980s, both orig­i­nally stud­ied de­sign, but Inez shifted to pho­tog­ra­phy when “ev­ery­thing I de­signed or thought about be­came an im­age”. Vinoodh asked her to pho­to­graph one of his early col­lec­tions and later joined her in the art of im­age mak­ing. As they love to re­count it, the pair fell in­stantly in love and have re­mained to­gether for thirty years. “We can’t do any­thing with­out each other,” van Lam­sweerde has ad­mit­ted. “We have the same ideas, the same ref­er­ence points, it’s as though we be­came the same per­son.”

They cer­tainly make a strik­ing pair: ex­u­ber­ant Inez with her owl-like eyes and Pre-raphaelite hair; along­side shy, qui­etly hand­some Vinoodh, much less com­fort­able in the spot­light. Apart from Mert Alas and Mar­cus Pig­got, with whom they share a cer­tain sen­si­bil­ity, there are no other ‘duo-pho­tog­ra­phers’, not least part­ners, work­ing to such a high level. Inez also re­mains the only woman of any note tak­ing fash­ion images in 2016, which seems in­cred­i­ble, but also con­firms that tal­ent is what the male- dom­i­nated hi­er­ar­chy of this niche re­quires. It is dif­fi­cult, she has said, to keep com­ing up with the goods, “es­pe­cially when big fash­ion houses ex­pect so much. They want to see at least eight fan­tas­tic images a day. It’s not al­ways been like this, and it cer­tainly puts peo­ple, es­pe­cially my as­sis­tants, off en­ter­ing the pro­fes­sion.”

Fu­elling the idea that ca­reer tra­jec­to­ries are mapped by leaps of faith, the duo were early ex­po­nents of com­puter ma­nip­u­la­tion. In 1993, as bur­geon­ing artists in New York, they ex­per­i­mented with new soft­ware and were early adopters of Paint­box tech­nol­ogy. Tak­ing this in­no­va­tive tool to ex­tremes, they pho­tographed a se­ries of nudes whose nip­ples and gen­i­talia were dig­i­tally smoothed and re­moved. Redo­lent of the dis­turb­ing work of Bri­tish artists Jake and Dinos Chap­man, Thank You Thigh­mas­ter at­tempted to blend hor­ror and el­e­gance with a tongue-in- cheek ul­tra moder­nity. A fur­ther se­ries, the hy­per-un­real Fi­nal Fan­tasy, mor­phed chil­dren’s faces into por­traits of sex­ual de­sire, ce­ment­ing a rep­u­ta­tion for risk tak­ing and so­cial com­men­tary. “The ob­vi­ous fak­e­ness shows an in­ter­nal ex­pe­ri­ence on the sur­face,” said van Lam­sweerde at the time.

As the art world cir­cled, hun­gry for the pair’s au­da­cious out­put, the fash­ion in­dus­try also took note. In 1994, a land­mark story for The Face, re­pub­lished from Am­s­ter­dam’s BLVD magazine, saw fur­ther ex­per­i­men­ta­tion. For Your Plea­sure fea­tured mod­els look­ing as syn­thetic as show­room dum­mies, heav­ily in­flu­enced by 1970s night­club glam­our, plas­tic cou­ture, and all the camp as­so­ci­a­tion that em­bod­ies. Deftly su­per­im­pos­ing their sub­jects onto stock images, the ef­fect was in­stant and un­de­ni­ably mes­meris­ing. One dou­ble page spread fea­tured a pair of bike-mounted Euro-twins shar­ing a pop­si­cle, in ref­er­ence to the space rocket tak­ing off be­hind them. Part Fiorucci, part brave new world, what it most def­i­nitely wasn’t was grunge—the pre­vail­ing back to ba­sics, no-frill genre that dom­i­nated the start of the decade.

In essence, Inez and Vinoodh were the an­ti­dote to grunge. Van Lam­sweerde, the daugh­ter of a notable Dutch fash­ion jour­nal­ist, had been at­tend­ing the Paris shows with her mother from the age of three, in­her­it­ing a love of all things flash-bulb wor­thy. “I was read­ing French Vogue as a girl be­cause that’s what we had in the house,” she re­cently de­clared. “Hel­mut New­ton, Guy Bour­din— these were the pho­tog­ra­phers that made the big­gest im­pres­sion on me.” There are un­doubted sim­i­lar­i­ties to the work of these provo­ca­teurs: the camp­ness, high oc­tane sheen, and eye for an ar­rest­ing im­age, all at­test to shrewd ob­ser­va­tion. “The pages of Vogue were my point of ref­er­ence, and what an amaz­ing start­ing point.”

Matadin cites the work of Ed van der Elsken, a Dutch pho­tog­ra­pher who cre­ated mono­chrome tableaux of or­di­nary peo­ple in re­pose, trans­form­ing them into B-movie stars in­hab­it­ing real world sets. His in­flu­ence can be seen in the por­traits that Inez & Vinoodh have be­come in­creas­ingly adept at. Van Lam­sweerde is also no shrink­ing vi­o­let and re­fuses to de­fer to the egos of Hol­ly­wood, or the capri­cious tem­per­a­ments so com­mon in the mu­sic busi­ness. Per­haps this is why they have al­ways ex­tracted the best out of their sit­ters, and why ev­ery­one from Clint East­wood to Björk leave the stu­dio with one of the best images of their ca­reer. The big given you al­ways see in their work, shows in the eyes of the per­son they’re pho­tograph­ing. This al­lows the im­age to tran­scend any field. They are images of hu­man be­ings, rather than fash­ion mo­ments, celebrity por­traits, or a ran­dom beauty at­tempt­ing to sell you some­thing.

The abil­ity to tran­scend in this way, has brought op­por­tu­ni­ties to branch out from the art-di­rected con­fines of fash­ion. It is worth re­mem­ber­ing that the duo started out with artis­tic in­tent and have shown in com­mer­cial art gal­leries since the early 1990s. “Both worlds can feed off each other but they also keep it in­de­pen­dent,” said Matadin in 2006. “We have one foot in one side, and one in the other. Lines blur by adding emo­tional value to ev­ery piece.” What is most ap­par­ent is the fact very few pho­tog­ra­phers or artists have the dual ca­reer they en­joy, or the voice they use to di­rect their im­mense flights of fancy. At times they are sur­real, emo­tional, play­ful and con­fronta­tional. There are clean lines and dirty sur­faces, as many scowls as there are smiles, while an­drog­yny, hu­man­ity and the de­sire to freeze frame the mo­ment presents it­self in so many ways.

Col­leagues re­veal that Inez takes the pic­tures while Vinoodh ‘steals them’, mean­ing he can pounce on an idea with alarm­ing syn­chronic­ity. They al­ways shoot to­gether, Inez talk­ing to the model, cre­at­ing a di­a­logue, so the aware­ness of the per­son is fo­cused on him or her. Vinoodh snoops around, shoot­ing from dif­fer­ent an­gles and with vary­ing pro­por­tions, usu­ally cap­tur­ing the more in­tense mo­ments. They are re­laxed in the stu­dio (a vir­tual sec­ond home, with over 150 shoot­ing days per year) be­cause they know ei­ther one of them will get the pic­ture—two vi­sions cre­at­ing a sin­gle im­age. The pair def­i­nitely come as a sin­gle unit, as iden­ti­fied by their iconic art work Me Kiss­ing Vinoodh (Pas­sion­ately) in which van Lam­sweerde’s con­torted face em­braces Matadin, who has been dig­i­tally re­moved from the im­age. While the pho­to­graph with­out Vinoodh was ex­hib­ited in gal­leries, an­other ver­sion with him present and Inez cov­ered in body paint was used as an ad­ver­tis­ing im­age for Lan­vin Homme. As you can see, in their multi-faceted world any­thing is pos­si­ble.

Per­haps the most en­dear­ing qual­ity of the dy­namic duo, be­yond their imag­i­na­tion, their pro­lific out­put, or the sheer heart-stop­ping ef­fect of their art, is their ded­i­ca­tion to those around them. From agents to as­sis­tants, the pro­duc­tion crew who make the world of Inez and Vinoodh spin around so pret­tily, and a re­volv­ing cast of mod­els al­ways wel­come in the fold, the vibe ap­pears solid and fam­ily-like. Some of these in­di­vid­u­als have been with them for over two decades, ob­vi­ously en­thralled by their pi­o­neer­ing spirit.

And noth­ing ap­pears to daunt them, whether sign­ing with art-god Larry Gagosian for gallery rep­re­sen­ta­tion; di­rect­ing videos for Lady Gaga; or dream­ing up cam­paigns for the likes of Chloe, Gucci, Miu Miu and Is­abel Marant. “I feel like you can do what­ever you want now,” said van Lam­sweerde in 2013. “When we started, no­body would look at your port­fo­lio un­less you had Linda Evan­ge­lista or Naomi Camp­bell in it, but that’s all changed. You can shoot for Comme des Garçons and H&M back to back and no­body cares as long as the end re­sult is good. I like that flex­i­bil­ity.”

Jour­nal­ists are prone to ask her if things are eas­ier now, and the an­swer is al­ways alarm­ingly frank. “I think the un­der­ground has slowly eroded,” she opined in 2014. “Kids don’t have to look too hard any­more, it’s all on the in­ter­net. I say go and find your pic­ture, and put your stamp on it. Pho­tog­ra­phy will only thrive if it is orig­i­nal.”

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