The Creative Mind: Q&A with Fashion Photographer Inez van Lamsweerde

The female half of husband-and-wife photography duo Inez & Vinoodh talks about balancing creativity with commercial sensibility

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Inez & Vinoodh / Courtesy Gagosian Gallery

Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin, Frozen Flowers, 2013

Over their 26 years of professional collaboration, Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin have become powerhouse photographers in the fashion world. As pioneers of digital manipulation, they’ve amassed a vast portfolio: editorial shoots for Vogue Paris and Harper’s Bazaar; commercial ad campaigns for Dior, Gucci and Louis Vuitton; as well as several fashion films. Meanwhile, they’ve also exhibited their own photography from Amsterdam to Brazil and back. Inez & Vinoodh’s latest effort is a study in portraiture, both human and flowers, opening today at the Gagosian Beverly Hills.

Inez, how did your artistic partnership with Vinoodh begin?

We met [initially] when we were in art school, but in 1986 Vinoodh had graduated already and started his own line as a fashion designer. He was about to have his first fashion show, and asked me to take pictures of the clothes. That’s how we realized that we had exactly the same ideas about images, fashion, beauty, about everything we could even think of. From that moment on we worked together, on and off, over about six years, all the way through my whole period in art school. It did take six years before we admitted that we had fallen in love with each other and started a relationship.

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Did you grow up in a creative environment?

Both of us did. My mother was a fashion journalist for the Times of Holland. She introduced me to photography at a very early age, because she used to go to Paris for the shows and then bring back French Vogue. That’s what formed my ideas on the depiction of women, because at that time—it was the ‘60s and the ‘70s—Helmut Newton and Guy Boudin were the photographers of French Vogue. Their sense of color and black-and-white has been a huge influence on my work. Similarly, Vinoodh grew up in a family where his father was a tailor and was always making clothes, whether it was for other people or himself. So that spurred his road into the fashion world, as a designer at first. Then, once we got together, we started to focus on working as photographers.

Do you feel that there is a guiding philosophy behind your work?

We photograph whatever it is—whether it’s a human being or a flower or anything else—in its most heroic incarnation.

Lady Gaga _  Yüyi - Yoü & I, 2011 copy

Inez & Vinoodh / Courtesy Gagosian Gallery

Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin, Lady Gaga / Yüyi – Yoü & I, 2011

Do you approach your commercial shoots differently from your own artwork?

I feel the commercial work has different challenges. There are compromises to be made, and I like working within that. Not everything is possible, and the challenge of working within the restrictions or within the wishes of a client and making it work for them is almost equally satisfying as making images that have, for lack of a better word, no limit. For us there’s no conscious road that we took. It gives us a sense of freedom to be able to work in so many different worlds at the same time, whether it’s portraiture, fine art or fashion—having, so to speak, three feet in all of these worlds makes us feel very independent and able to have a cross-pollination into the body of work that we’ve made.

How have you noticed the field of photography changing since you began your career in the ‘80s?

The fact that everything is shot digitally now has freed up a lot of possibilities. Before we were shooting digitally, you were relying on Polaroids to see whether it was going okay, whether the light was correct. Now you see it right away on the screen, and you can react really fast. This speed of reaction now infuses the day, which is really exciting. I am personally not nostalgic about the loss of film. I feel the benefits of digital shooting are so great and the fact that there is an immediate result is so rewarding. Photography has, especially now with things like Tumblr and Instagram, become so democratic and I love that about it. When Vinoodh and I started out, it was much harder to get your work seen. On the other hand, the idea of the underground has completely gone away. Everyone is right away mainstream. I sometimes feel that younger photographers get thrown into working without really having the chance to discover who they are as an artist.

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Why have you focused so heavily on flowers in this exhibit opening in Beverly Hills?

It’s a very personal obsession with flower arranging. I always say to my friends, if I wasn’t taking pictures I’d probably be a florist. It’s equally creative for me to put flowers together in a combination that’s exciting. Their shapes, colors, and personalities speak to me somehow. They’re very stark, but it’s a study in composition, in color, in abstraction, and at the same time in personality. There will be one whole room of those. On the other side of the gallery, there will be portraits. Both rooms—the fact that they are both two separate rooms—emphasize this dualism and dichotomy in our work, where there’s always a tension between the beautiful and the bizarre, the elegant and the extreme, the classical and the camp.

Have you and Vinoodh ever over the years thought about working separately?

No! No, that never comes into our heads.

What do you hope that viewers take away from your work?

Ideally, this awe for humanity and for how exquisite each person is, whether it’s according to the norms of what is beautiful, or whether it’s totally the opposite of that. We always say there’s no person on earth that we couldn’t make an incredible image of.

Inez & Vinoodh’s latest exhibit will be on view at the Gagosian Gallery Beverly Hills July 12 – August 23.

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