Inez Van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin have been together (romantically and professionally) for twenty-six years, which seems like a feat unto itself, apart from their work as successful photographers. The Dutch duo has moved effortlessly between fashion editorials and advertisements, always emphasizing the beauty of form, sometimes sprinkled with elements of camp. Now, the Paris outpost of the Gagosian is featuring a selection of their photographs. Throughout, recognizable faces include Arizona Muse, James Franco, Lady Gaga, Gaga’s “alter ego” Jo Calderone, Shalom Harlow, and Eva Herzigova. (Drew Barrymore is in there too, it turns out, but only showing her back.)
The work is presented as triptychs: three unrelated images sidled up one against another to create a new visual impact. And yet some of the images definitely feel stronger than their neighbors. In Freja on the Red Bed (Self Service, 2008), the model is in recline—jeans on, top off; nipple ring on display—and magnetic enough to outshine the photos flanking her on either side (at left: a naked bearded three-headed model; at right, three perfect yellow rose stems). In the crook of her upper arm, one can just read the tiny scrawl of the model’s tattoo, “this too shall pass”—and despite the transient message etched into her, the effect of the photo is the most lasting. An adjacent triptych had a similar effect, with one image—Lara as Cicciolina (2007), sullen in a wedding headdress and veil against a desolate background, a partially eaten chocolate-covered donut in hand—almost overshadowing the whole. Both images tap into a vulnerability that its neighbors lack.
Thinking about juxtaposition is something Inez and Vinoodh did intensively for Pretty Much Everything, a three-volume mega monograph collecting several hundred photos from their archives and contemporary work. When Stephen Heyman interviewed the duo for T Magazine, he inquired about their photo placement choices in the book. Citing a particularly odd image pairing, Heyman prodded: “The one on the left looks like something you’d see in a gallery, and the one on the right looks like something you’d see in a glossy magazine. You’re saying they’re connected?” To which Inez replied:“By putting them next to each other, in our heads there’s a story there. We see a certain perversity there that is present in both images. Maybe they’re a family, maybe they live next door, maybe there’s a secret underground club? It triggers all these associations for us.” The belief that all forms bleed together regardless of context, that they have something to contribute to one another, seems to be an increasingly popular position in this age. But is there a story necessarily by proximity? The incongruities highlight a disparity in tone, which can be exciting. But they can feel like an instant compare-and-contrast in which or one image feels more striking than other, overriding rather than dialoguing.
Then again, sometimes the juxtaposition works. The only diptych in the show consists of Lady Gaga resting her head on her arm (Lady Gaga – Head, Yoü & I, 2011), a tightly framed black-and-white shot, alongside a color photograph of three horizontally-lain flowers (3 Dahlias, 2013) on a white background. The softness of the one cycles into the tenderness of the other: the pristine beauty of the petals and the shape of the neck become harmonious while also drawing out new impressions.
Overall, it’s an interesting examination of several elements: what photographs are most powerful on their own? What strength can be evoked—or dimmed—by placing images alongside others? How does the photographer conceive of his or her own work, and how much should the spectator bend to follow their logic?
Of course, it has to start with a good photograph from the outset, which in turn is based on the relationship between photographer and subject. In an interview for Style.com, Inez hones in on the fundamental: “You spend a day together and definitely anyone that poses for anyone is in a very vulnerable position. It’s not nothing to let yourself be photographed.”
The exhibition runs from JANUARY 24 to MARCH 9, 2013