Photographers Inez and Vinoodh Preview New Portraits Exhibit

Inez & Vinoodh/Coutesy Gagosian Gallery
Lady Gaga as Joey Calderone

The new exhibition from Dutch photographers Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin features an embroidered Viggo Mortensen and Lady Gaga with gills.

The product of a collaboration has the potential to be greater than the capabilities of either partner. Ideally, it’s 2 + 2 = 5. For this reason, the artwork made by a couple in love is truly something magical. The new exhibition by Dutch photographers Inez and Vinoodh at Gagosian Gallery in Beverly Hills is a remarkably earnest treatise on beauty for our image weary time. 

Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin have been partners in life and work since 1986.  They have navigated the high maintenance worlds of fashion, art and celebrity with seeming ease. Their photographs have graced the pages of all major fashion and lifestyle magazines, including i-D, Interview, Purple, Pop, Vanity Fair, Vogue USA, Vogue China, Paris Vogue, Vogue Hommes International, Vogue Italia, Another Magazine, Gentlewoman, Visionaire, V, V Man and W. They have shown their work in museums and galleries around the world, touching down now at Gagosian Gallery in Beverly Hills.

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The current exhibition by Inez and Vinoodh is part retrospective, part future. The entry gallery is a collection of portrait works from over the years featuring major talents like Natalie Portman, Javier Bardem, Charlize Theron, Michael Douglas, Sophia Loren, Mickey Rourke and Vanessa Redgrave. There is a shirtless Ed Ruscha; a seemingly embroidered Viggo Mortensen; and Lady Gaga with gills. This last sitter has been a recurring muse for the pair of artists in recent years, being the subject of numerous shoots and music videos for the artist. When they photograph someone, their aim is to show the "hero" version of their sitter. They collaborate with their subjects -- modifying their bodies and the photographs taken of them to enhance whatever they draw from the encounter with their sitters.

The Hollywood Reporter had a chance to talk with the collaborative partners on the occasion of the opening of their new exhibition at Gagosian Gallery. The conversation began with a focus on the room full of floral still lifes – the newest work in the exhibition – and then moved back to the artists’ more familiar portrait work:

The Hollywood Reporter: These flower images are quiet brave in their simplicity and their honesty. Are you inspired by artists like Mapplethorpe who moved between the figure and the still life like this?

Inez van Lamsweerde: There is so much that inspires us, but then it’s about letting go. Because we’ve assimilated so many influences and images all thoughout our lives. Whether it’s through movies or other things – portraiture or fashion photography or still lives – that the beauty of making those is that then you just forget about it and sort of intuitively create.

Vinoodh Matadin: Because it comes back… 

Van Lamsweerde: And in your way. It’s assimilated in a combination and it comes out that way.

Matadin: And also we grew up in Holland with all these incredible documentary photographers – all these images you have in your head and before you know it things just unconsciously come out of you.

Van Lamsweerde: And that’s why the way we create those (the flower images) is so freeing for us and so exciting. It feels like we could keep going with that forever. We asked ourselves, "What could we do where we don’t need people but that could be equally fulfilling?" and that’s an equal exchange of beauty. And so we’re so excited that we found it and had the possibility to create it specifically for here. 

THR: So the flower photographs were made specifically for this Gagosian show?

VM: Yes, this is the first time we are showing them here.

THR: Are there any "forbidden fruit" – people that you would love to photograph – people that you have kind of a crush on that you have not yet been able to photograph?

Van Lamsweerde: That’s difficult. The answer was always Prince, but we just shot him – for the cover of V magazine – so that one is checked off the list. We have photographed almost everyone so far. I mean one big one for me was Sophia Loren, who we photographed. … It’s hard. 

Matadin: It’s a shame we never could photograph Elizabeth Taylor.

Van Lamsweerde: Elizabeth Taylor would have been genius. Michael Jackson would have been genius.

Matadin: Oh, the female director we love so much…

Van Lamsweerde: Yes, Kathryn Bigelow. We are extremely eager to work with her and think she is unbelievably beautiful. That’s someone we always ask for.

THR: Are there filmmakers that you are particularly inspired by right now?

Matadin: I think David Fincher.

Van Lamsweerde: Yes, David Fincher is an incredibly intelligent filmmaker who uses a lot of influences from different sides of the spectrum – art and fashion, etc.

Matadin: Of course David Lynch.

Van Lamsweerde: David Lynch is another HUGE influence on us. And Quentin Tarantino.  I would say those three are the big three for us – endless inspiration. I also love Robert Rodriquez very much.

Matadin: We like the humor side of the dark side.

Van Lamsweerde: There is for us a lot of inspiration in film. And now we are moving more and more into film, since every fashion campaign we get into requires a film and sometimes it is only a film. So we are moving into that territory more and more. You know, we’ve made fashion films for Dior that have had like 20 million viewers on YouTube. So it’s this incredible broadening of our horizons with that in the past few years. And we are in the process of optioning a book. It’s sort of the logical progression of our whole trajectory. It keeps on being interesting – adding and changing  It’s exciting.

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There isn’t a human being in the world that we feel that we couldn’t take a great picture of – there always something in someone that is exciting. And we’re lucky enough to work with incredible people. And the actors they are already so interesting – visually and what you know of their careers – and what they’ve done – and for us to take that and twist it or change it around or find another part of that person and heightening that in the photograph.

Matadin: That was the first photograph we took of Drew Barrymore (image of the back of Barrymore’s head with tussled hair) and while she was sitting there she was saying to us – "Oh my god, I can feel that this is going to be one of the best pictures of me ever."

Van Lamsweerde: And she had come in with this hair so we said we have to shoot the back of your head! And in the end you don’t know whether it’s a boy or a girl…

THR: So the majority of the images in this part of the show (gallery of portraits) are black and white images – would you say that you lean that way?

Van Lamsweerde: Yes, for portraiture. Because it’s sort of makes it timeless and goes back to the real photography tradition.

Matadin: It was a reaction to our fashion photography work that was colorful and manipulated.  So we said let’s go back to the old school, classical black and white portrait.

Van Lamsweerde: Plus, for us the idea of the grey background, or the white background, the same light setup – we don’t change the light – so that within these parameters all you have to do is focus on the person in front of you.  So you’re not bothered by technique, by color.  It’s really about the person.

THR: I think you two are very unique in where your work comes from – it’s not about applying things to people or subjects.

Matadin: Yeah, and if people are nervous about what we are shooting or something, we say come and have a look. We’re not afraid to show the work to who we are working with.

Van Lamsweerde: It’s collaborative and that’s what great about it.

Matadin: And then immediately they relax and then you get the picture.

Van Lamsweerde: Yeah, and, you know we’re all the same.

Matadin: We feel so lucky because we are two and we can share all of our experiences together.

Van Lamsweerde: It never feels like work because we are always together.