Inez & Vinoodh Wish They’d Photographed Michael Jackson and Other Musings from the Duo

Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin unveiled their first stateside exhibit last night, at the Gagosian Gallery in Beverly Hills. The show features highlights from the duo’s prolific career, including an ethereal Tilda Swinton, a rugged Mickey Rourke, a forlorn Javier Bardem, and a robotic Lady Gaga, as well as a still-life flower series, a first for the couple.

Inez & Vinoodh just released Gaga’s first image for her upcoming album ARTPOP, and are in LA to shoot the avant-singer’s first video, in time for its promised August 19th debut. Hint caught up with them at their Beverly Hills opening to discuss art, fashion, and the Michael Jackson photograph that never was.

Why did you choose LA for your first US opening?
Inez: It chose us.
Vinoodh: We did our first show at the Gagosian in Paris, then they suggested the next step would be this.

Is New York the next step?
I: Probably in a year or so.

What was the process like to choose the images for the exhibit?
I: It was really a very close collaboration between us and the gallery director here [Deborah McLeod]. It was an almost weekly back and forth, like a chess game of images, until we had a group of works that we felt were important to print and bring here. And then we spent two days moving things around until we came to this. The [still life] flowers were made specifically for here, so that’s a whole new body of work.

Because you have a lot of celebrity portraits in the exhibit, do you find the process of photographing a celebrity different from photographing a model?
V: No, no.
I: It’s the same.
V: Even if we photographed a doorman it would be the same.

I just always thought it would be difficult to shoot someone like Prince, who you photographed for V Magazine recently, because they already have so much iconic imagery associated with them.
I: It’s exciting because you know what’s come before, what the background is, and what’s been in people’s consciousness. So, then you either change it or go with it. It really depends on the person and how much they’re willing to wait. But we’re very intuitive and we’re very fast. We react immediately to what happens on set.

When you’re choosing a new model, a fresh face, what do you look for in a girl?
V: Personality.
I: Personality. Experience. And generally it’s about recognizing a part of yourself in them, something you connect with immediately.

The Miu Miu campaign this season is my favorite of the season.
I: Thank you.

And I thought that about last season’s as well.
I: Thanks. We have so much fun doing that because they let us cast it. So that’s exactly that process of finding.
V: We wanted to make it more unexpected. More forward-thinking.
I: We just try and find a specific type of woman for them that embodies the collection and then sort of play with interesting combinations of people in their faces and their ways of moving.

Since you contribute to French, American, Chinese and Japanese Vogue, are you keeping in mind the market and the customer when you’re shooting?
I: Yes, we do. And sometimes we try and subvert it.

What is the process like, then, between producing a Chinese Vogue cover shoot and a French Vogue cover shoot?
I: Well, the thing is that editors have their specific ideas about what their woman is and we understand very well who they’re talking to as a magazine. So we try and have the people we shoot for the covers embody that person. For French Vogue, it’s always 70s… 80s… sort of our old high school fantasies that me and Emmanuelle [Alt, editor-in-chief] have. We all have the same music references. And for China Vogue it’s much more about a certain elegance and a balance between East and West. So you kind of know where [Vogue’s] parameters are and within that it’s exciting to create the elements. It’s fun to do different things for all of them.

You have a longstanding relationship with French Vogue. Has your work changed since Carine [Roitfeld] was at the magazine compared to Emmanuelle now?
I: The same because we used to mostly work with Emmanuelle when Carine was there and now we still work with Emmanuelle.

Do you think that with the current industry’s attention to advertisers and red carpet, do you still consider fashion an art form?
V: I don’t know. I think the moment you credit an image, it becomes a fashion picture. If you don’t credit the clothes…
I: If I credit (pointing to a hanging photo) that shirt, it would be a fashion image. But if it were, say, Drew Barrymore, it would be a portrait.
V: If you say YSL, it becomes a YSL ad.
I: It’s so much about the context. And we tend to shift contexts, move them around, and make the perceptions move around as well. For us, it’s about all that, working in it and then blurring it.

When you’re working with an editor on selecting the wardrobe, do you find that you have more feedback or less feedback than other photographers.
I: Maybe more because I’m a girl.

I wanted to ask, in the years you’ve been working together, have you had any conflicts?
I: Not really
V: No, after 27 years, you just figure it out.

Do you ever have a moment when one of you says: “I’m not running this.”
I: No, we feel it. We feel when an image is right. We both know it. And if it’s a discussion it’s a discussion and then maybe it’s a completely different image.
V: And if we don’t agree, we talk about it and we find a solution. And we do so many images.

One more question, if you could photograph any one person from history, who would it be?
I: Michael Jackson