Technically, Inez & Vindooh are celebrity photographers because they take a lot of photos of celebrities. They also take a lot of photos of each other and of flowers and of people that they think are pretty, which are all done in a highly polished way that is never without it’s nod to being studio work. They don’t do spontaneous, off-the-cuff photography or anything out on the street: they are a specific type of photographer whose studio time is integral, almost meditative, because that is where the magic happens for them. It’s about connecting with a person or object in a very specific amount of time (usually thirty minutes) and then using those images as a jumping off point for creation. It takes a lot of focus to make a good photograph.
The Dutch husband-and-wife artistic team have been a “name” in photography for decades and are the current subjects of a solo show at the always fancy Gagosian Gallery in Beverly Hills. The show is both a look back into their past, to see some of the works that have made them so successful, and a gazing into the future, through assumed natural still lifes.
The duo have become popular from their high-fashion, high-concept work paired with their more recent efforts to help visualize how musicians perform themselves in their album artwork. Their work is about duality, a very basic high and low, correct and incorrect study of identity through breaking down gender, age, and human integrity. There are photos of celebrities well into middle age that could be mistaken for school girls: Michelle Williams with her pacifier looks freshly awoken from a nap, Scarlet Johansson and Gwyneth Paltrow appear to be playing dress-up, and Natalie Portman had a bit of a time with her mother’s makeup, making a mascara beard for herself as a fatherly hand enters the frame to clean her. The toying with themes considered so black and white like gender is funny because the photos are all in black and white: if only these things were so easy.
The gender fucking in the Portman image is a theme in the show almost specifically to ladies with beards as a portrait of a bearded Inez and three headed model bigfoot Lucy Fer make a triangle of facial haired women. There’s also Lady Gaga’s Joe Calderone, Michael Douglas eating flowers, Ed Ruscha posing like a Playboy model, and Tilda Swinton balancing her trademark ambiguous double-sex. In a smaller room, full of line-up celebrity portraits, you see the more dramatic side of I&V, where Viggo Mortensen and Alexander McQueen look like skeletal monsters and Vanessa Redgrave is all dolled up in a…hoodie: the couple like to fuck with your expectations, campily playing around with our assumptions of a person.
Across from these portraits is the biggest piece in the exhibit: Me Kissing Vindooh (Passionately), a multi-paneled photograph of Inez kissing nothing. The piece is the oldest in the show and part of a series the couple did dedicated to love. They described, in person, how it is their most personal work and is almost too difficult to share as it is a meditation on love and loss. It was made from them taking Polaroids of them kissing and retroactively removing Vindooh digitally, making it appear like Inez is getting intimate with a ghost. The image–and its size–forces you to see how a person looks alone, without that other half. For them–who are a couple–the thought of losing each other is frightening.
The remainder of the show is the most interesting as it is an absolute surprise: it’s a room full of portraits of flowers, perfectly set up in the sunniest room of the gallery. The work is their most recent, all from 2013, and is a collection of beautiful, complicated new interpretations on the Dutch still life tradition. The pieces are very quiet and varied featuring lone baby roses and poppies and lilies implanted into a green floral box, standing like pretty little soldiers. The duality here is between the real and the fake, a constant theme of theirs, as many of the portraits of flowers (as they call them) feature an unnatural severed hand or rose appendage or are covered in latex paint. Still, these photos require the most investigation as their size (61 inches by 61 inches) reveal more about the flowers that we could see in real life.
Ironically, the work here comes from the least planned and least clean of processes. Inez & Vindooh explained that making these flower portraits involves their going and buying lots and lots of flowers at the farmers market and then having a hard and fast studio session of their throwing flowers around and very quickly trying to take photos of the unplanned arrangements that they make. They describe the process as very stream of conscious and expressionistic, a surprise since their work is always so polished.
Many may consider this show to be something that you can see in magazines or online or wherever else you may have already seen these artists work. Yet, there is a difference between seeing these works in an eight by ten page that is one of millions of copies and seeing them blown up, near the actual size of the subject, to see every detailed moment of a photo. It’s an invaluable experience that teaches you as much about photography as it does about the nature of a subject and artist. You’ll come for the portraits–but you’ll stay for the still lifes.
Inez & Vindooh’s work will be on view at Beverly Hills Gagosian Gallery through August 23. Get more information on the show here.