Few photographers have seen more through their lenses than Inez & Vinoodh. The duo’s distinctive, experimental practice has made them one of the most sought-after practitioners in the industry – operating, as Inez puts it, as ‘two brains, one person’.
Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin met at the Fashion Academy in their hometown of Amsterdam, where they both studied fashion design. When Vinoodh commissioned Inez to shoot his first fashion collection in 1986, they realised the potential of their partnership, in work and life. ‘We both grew up in the same city, and have the same influences,’ they say via Zoom from their New York studio. ‘We did that first shoot together and we didn’t even need to talk, we just had the same feelings about everything.’
Their path has seamlessly alternated between fashion photography and high-concept fine art, while their practice is grounded in contradictions: exquisite meets freakish; mundane meets surreal; glamorous meets grotesque. Through a deft command of digital manipulation tools, their images have upended gender roles, subverted societal notions of physical perfection, and lured viewers in with a taste of the sumptuous, only to dash expectations with something altogether more unearthly. ‘Each day is as exciting as it was 30 years ago,’ they say. ‘It’s this idea of reinventing everything all the time. We don’t rely on a formula, and we don’t really get bored.’
The duo have created major campaigns for the likes of Chanel, Valentino, Gucci and Louis Vuitton, staged art exhibitions at the Stedelijk, the Hayward and the Whitney, designed a jewellery collection, directed music videos, collaborated on a long-term basis with Lady Gaga and Björk, and conceived online platform Double Dutch, a charitable initiative that rethinks cash gifting with the help of leading contemporary artists.
Their portrait repertoire reads as its own eclectic hall of fame, from Barack Obama, A$AP Rocky, Sophia Loren, Tilda Swinton and Kendall Jenner to fellow judge Julianne Moore, whom the duo photographed for this issue. ‘You get to meet some incredibly talented people like Julianne and build a relationship and trust. There’s always this idea of surrendering and sort of letting it go from their side. It’s something very special and not to be taken lightly.’
The dawn of computer-age image-making was pivotal for the duo. While photography had largely been siloed as a way to document reality, the digital revolution ushered in a new age of potential, and Inez & Vinoodh were at the forefront. In 1991, they were introduced to the Quantel Paintbox (a pre-Photoshop editing system), which allowed them to ‘subvert the decisive moment’, ‘mess with the concept of time’ in their images, and tear through the very fabric of reality. It’s easy now, in a world defined by digital manipulation, to forget just how radical their explorations were. ‘Sometimes it’s about disrupting this idea of perfection,’ they explain. ‘There are mistakes that happen while we’re doing something on the computer, and then that becomes the basis for a series.’ But they also have a penchant for the analogue, revelling in the unpredictability of physical image- making through collage. ‘We like a certain feeling of a hand in there rather than ultimate perfection,’ they say.
For both, their Dutch upbringing remains embedded in their practice; from the Rembrandts and Van Goghs they saw in Amsterdam museums and the Rietveld furniture that furnished their schools, shops and public buildings to the creative melting pot of art school. ‘Study as long as you can, because it’s really the time when you build your vocabulary,’ they say. They draw parallels with the two-dimensionality and use of light in Dutch old master paintings. ‘We’re very frontal. That’s quite a Dutch thing. When there’s no light on the person we’re photographing, it’s not a picture.’
For Designer of the Year, they singled out nominee Studiopepe. ‘Some of their designs remind us of the sort of simplicity and functionality that turns into an unexpected shape,’ the duo say. ‘When you grow up, you don’t think much about the furniture around you. You just use it. It’s interesting that the things that remind you of your childhood come back as these design objects that, in our case, end up in our home.’
Home, for Inez & Vinoodh, is an apartment in Manhattan and a house in the Hamptons, which Inez describes as bohemian with Japanese influences and a very specific colour scheme. ‘We want it to look as if we started living here in the 1970s and just kept collecting art, objects, furniture and trinkets all along.’ Inez admits that she is ‘obsessed with outdoor table lighting’ and ‘would love to collaborate with a great brand or design the interiors for a hotel’.
Inez & Vinoodh have condensed double Dutch into a single, inimitable idea, with an instinctive feel for who is in front of them, and what to do with them. ‘A big part of our life is meeting the most incredible people, then meeting them through the lens,’ they say. It’s a privilege.’
inezandvinoodh.com (opens in new tab)
Harriet Lloyd-Smith is the Arts Editor of Wallpaper*, responsible for the art pages across digital and print, including profiles, exhibition reviews, and contemporary art collaborations. She started at Wallpaper* in 2017 and has written for leading contemporary art publications, auction houses and arts charities, and lectured on review writing and art journalism. When she’s not writing about art, she’s making her own.
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