One of the most successful signatures in fashion photography started in Purple, The Face, and i-D in the early ’90s. Inez and Vinoodh embraced the beginning of the digital revolution to reinvent contemporary fashion imagery, inspired by the glamour of Guy Bourdin and Richard Avedon but deliberately made more synthetic. For Purple, they showed the more artistic side of their work, including a striking series of supermodel nudes across different issues.
For the anniversary edition of Purple, they shot Chanel’s warm and cozy Fall/Winter 2022 collection far from the studio, going to the tiny hotel rooms of models, where these nomadic beauties stop for a night or two.
OLIVIER ZAHM — You are possibly the most successful photographers of our generation. And it’s been 30 years — the same age as Purple.
INEZ VAN LAMSWEERDE — Yes, it’s incredible.
OLIVIER ZAHM — You’re mostly considered fashion photographers, but your work has multiple facets. Among my favorites are your portraits. How do you approach a subject? And what’s your technique?
INEZ VAN LAMSWEERDE — When we started really working on the portraiture, we decided to find a technique that is always the same. Same kind of light, black and white, same color of background, similar posing table. We have a set of rules every time we do a portrait.
OLIVIER ZAHM — And the table is always at the level of the bust.
INEZ VAN LAMSWEERDE — Yes, a little above the waist or bust high, depending on the size of the person.
VINOODH MATADIN — That way we don’t have to think about the technique.
INEZ VAN LAMSWEERDE — It’s just what happens between us and the person in front of the camera.
VINOODH MATADIN — After 10 years of working with a computer and with Quantel Paintbox, we decided: let’s not use the computer for portraits and just go back to the basics. To straight photography. No flying elephants. No distractions. Just the person. How can we make this into an incredible image?
INEZ VAN LAMSWEERDE — A legendary image of someone. Glenn O’Brien described it best, this idea of wanting to make a hero out of everyone we photograph, whether it’s someone famous or completely unknown.
It’s about bringing out the heroic element and elevating this person to a status that becomes iconic right away, no matter who it is.
VINOODH MATADIN — It’s almost like absorbing the subject, the person in front of you. You zoom into their personality. You take one little thing and make it the picture.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Is it instinctive?
INEZ VAN LAMSWEERDE — It’s about the person sitting there. You look carefully at someone and notice: “Oh my God, this person’s hands are incredible.” And then you make sure that you see them. Or you see the shape of the shoulders or the way the neck and the head are positioned on the bust. Or if someone’s eyes are amazing, then that becomes the focus. Or if they have a fantastic smile or really big ears that are exciting to feature… looking at all the elements on the outside of someone. Half of the time, when we photograph someone, we’ve never met them before. But personally, when someone comes in, within two minutes, you know the person and how far they’ll play with you, and how that exchange is going to be.
OLIVIER ZAHM — And that’s the most intimate moment of photography?
INEZ VAN LAMSWEERDE — Yes. It’s the most wonderful thing for us. Usually, that person comes in, and it’s that full concentration and exchange of trust that fill you up with happiness. There’s something about the human-to-human intimacy — and the opening up of someone to the camera and the exchange.
VINOODH MATADIN — Some people say: “You hypnotized me. It is a wonderful experience.”
INEZ VAN LAMSWEERDE — One of our methods is to shower this person with compliments. It happens because you go: “Oh, my God, your nose, how beautiful. Turn it. Now, the neck looks good. Wow, the way this collarbone hits your chest.” And the person becomes larger and larger, because, of course, it’s wonderful to be admired. And it’s not that I’m pretending that I see all these things. It’s part of my process, and that’s how it builds itself into a shape, and that becomes a picture.
VINOODH MATADIN — It’s never a stolen moment.
INEZ VAN LAMSWEERDE — I think that’s where the Richard Avedon or Irving Penn influence comes from. It’s about the subject being super aware that the picture is being taken. We never catch someone off guard. It’s really about what we give and what comes back and how we, together, shape someone into a position and an expression that becomes them.
OLIVIER ZAHM — It’s almost a moment where they decide to consciously occupy the space of the photograph.
INEZ VAN LAMSWEERDE — Exactly. And who they want to be at that moment. And we notice it’s particularly hard with actors because actors are really comfortable when they’re in character. So, that’s a whole other thing of finding the real person inside the actor. Most talents on our sets are surprised by the level of concentration, the subtlety of gestures and body changes and expressions, so they start to get into a zone and then the picture happens.
OLIVIER ZAHM — I also love your nudes. Do you still do them? Or is it more difficult these days?
INEZ VAN LAMSWEERDE — It’s difficult these days. When we did those nudes for Purple — the way we looked at nudity was more naive and innocent, compared with how people perceive nudity today. It’s a confusing moment. We approached the nudes as fashion pictures. The body, the shape and the attitude, the hair and make-up. There were shoes most of the time or jewelry. But in my head, they were wearing clothes. It was not so much about the fact that they were nude, but about what they could say with their body.
VINOODH MATADIN — It was more of an art form, like a classical nude. A study, a painting.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Like sculpture.
INEZ VAN LAMSWEERDE — Yes. More about the beauty. And it’s a shame now that we cannot enjoy the beauty of the female body. It’s problematic now. And it’s sad because there’s an overwhelming beauty in it, and every body looks different. I guess things have to get extreme before they get back into a more comfortable zone.
OLIVIER ZAHM — It may be reopening a little. There’s a new generation of transgender talents who are freer with their bodies.
INEZ VAN LAMSWEERDE — Yes. The way fashion is going, now, is a progress: it’s much more open to different kinds of bodies.
OLIVIER ZAHM — You’re among the first photographers to have immediately embraced the possibilities of digital manipulation and created a digital style.
INEZ VAN LAMSWEERDE — You could say that. Nobody else was doing anything like that at the time. But now this obsession for beauty is going too far, with plastic surgery, gym, face filters, all that working out. At the same time, there’s less physicality because a lot of the social interaction goes through a screen.
VINOODH MATADIN — People will now create perfect virtual bodies that they’re not allowed to show anymore in reality.
OLIVIER ZAHM — You have a body, but you lose the sensation.
INEZ VAN LAMSWEERDE — You’re perfect, but you don’t feel anything. That was the idea behind that first series from 1994 called “Final Fantasy” that you exhibited at your show “L’Hiver de l’Amour.” Already then, we thought about how the people who create video games are going to influence how our future is going to look, and indeed it’s happening now. The people who created Fortnite are ruling the metaverse. New beauty standards are emerging. When we talk to young men who are in their early 20s, they often see Megan Fox as a sex symbol. Why? Because they’ve all been playing video games in which most female avatars look like her. They have insanely curved bodies that are barely possible in reality. The eyes are enlarged.
VINOODH MATADIN — The breasts are enlarged.
INEZ VAN LAMSWEERDE — And boys all grew up playing those games from seven years old onward. So, that’s their sex symbol right now. That’s what is being promoted on social media as a beauty standard today, with face filters, with all the people that our society worships — they have unrealistic body shapes.
OLIVIER ZAHM — You don’t address sexuality in an obvious way.
VINOODH MATADIN — No. I think our photography is more about humanity. The beauty of life.
INEZ VAN LAMSWEERDE — And who you want to be. This applies to me, too. I’m a woman, and I’m photographing women. How much do I want to be the girls I’m shooting? I always say in my next life, I’ll come back as Mica [Argañaraz], the Argentinian model. Is it photography that gives me a chance to live again by enhancing the beauty of those amazing models in a picture?
OLIVIER ZAHM — Photography has certainly something to do with spectrality, in the sense that you project yourself onto a different person. You capture the surface, but you also try to capture the soul.
INEZ VAN LAMSWEERDE — For sure. It’s an energy that circulates and comes back. The girl is in front of us, and the energy of everyone working on the shoot is going toward her. All these invisible arrows are going to this one person.
OLIVIER ZAHM — An invisible line.
INEZ VAN LAMSWEERDE — Yes. It’s just like up, up, up, more beautiful, more amazing. And everyone works to get it there. That’s why on our shoots, people can’t bring their cellphone on set. We hate it when we turn around, and the hairdresser is on the phone.
VINOODH MATADIN — It’s all based on trust in the end. To be totally open. There is no “no.” No fear.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Let’s talk about fashion because it’s an important part of your life. How do you keep the ball rolling after 30 years of nonstop shooting — what’s the incentive?
VINOODH MATADIN — Staying open-minded.
INEZ VAN LAMSWEERDE — I think it’s curiosity. This ever-changing idea of who we are is what’s exciting, right? That’s what fashion does. It constantly reflects society back onto us, and it never stops changing. So, you’re constantly going, like: “How am I giving a shape to this thing that’s happening now? How am I reacting to what’s happening now? How am I trying to change the conversation about what’s happening now?” I think that’s inherent to fashion, this duality of nostalgia and change that is happening simultaneously and is creating something new all the time. It’s fascinating.
OLIVIER ZAHM — But you also look back to the past, right?
VINOODH MATADIN — Yes.
INEZ VAN LAMSWEERDE — Always there. That’s absolutely right. We feel that nostalgia is at the heart of fashion.
VINOODH MATADIN — I also think that our best images are timeless. We can show you an image from yesterday and one from 30 years ago, and people won’t know when it was taken. I think that’s really our strongest aspect.
OLIVIER ZAHM — I agree. It’s very clear in your retrospective book Pretty Much Everything, published by Taschen. It’s difficult to date the works.
INEZ VAN LAMSWEERDE — It’s the reason why there’s no chronological order. To us, it’s how these images live in our mind together and how they react to each other.
OLIVIER ZAHM — How do you keep finding inspiration?
INEZ VAN LAMSWEERDE — There’s a great thing in fashion, which is the idea of the chain reaction. We are inspired and influenced by everyone we work with. We don’t just do it alone. And I think that’s also why we could do it for that long. I’m sure it’s the same for you. You work with amazing people. I think that’s a part of why we can still go and do it.
OLIVIER ZAHM — In the end, fashion is teamwork.
INEZ VAN LAMSWEERDE — It is. I admire artists who can go to the studio by themselves every morning, but that’s not us. It’s not our life.
OLIVIER ZAHM — And you’ve always been very precise with hair and make-up.
INEZ VAN LAMSWEERDE — We have a group of people we love and who we started with and who we still work with.
VINOODH MATADIN — Hair and make-up are a language for us.
INEZ VAN LAMSWEERDE — Fashion — including hair and make-up and accessories — is a language of codes. And unfortunately, there are plenty of stylists who don’t understand that language or have the knowledge, the sense of history or the experience to play with that. We like working with people who have the same point of reference. It’s about personal experience but also diving into fashion history, about ideas on femininity and society. We look at every element of the past and we learn so much from it. It’s so exciting to de- code it and take elements and rehash them.
VINOODH MATADIN — And break the rules.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Fashion is so big now that it’s become like pop culture.
INEZ VAN LAMSWEERDE — Yes. I think fashion is losing its meaning. And its sense of style.
VINOODH MATADIN — I’m convinced that it will create a new movement that is more underground, more local, or maybe even going back…
INEZ VAN LAMSWEERDE — Because everything is about mass now. I think that’s the problem: the commercialization of everything. People don’t have a chance to develop themselves quietly within their group. It immediately gets spit out on social media, or it gets picked up immediately. And right away it’s a mass phenomenon.
VINOODH MATADIN — Then with one swipe, it’s gone, you don’t remember anything anymore, and it becomes all the same. When you walk on the streets, it stays there. A billboard is there for a month or more. You can remember it. Whereas what you saw on social media, you forget immediately.
INEZ VAN LAMSWEERDE — Nothing stays because our attention spans are so short.
VINOODH MATADIN — There are no values anymore. Also, the phone format doesn’t help. It’s too small for photography. You can’t immerse yourself in the image.
OLIVIER ZAHM — So, magazines and books are still important for you, in that sense?
INEZ VAN LAMSWEERDE — Yes. I think it’s a time factor. That’s what’s beautiful about magazines and books: that you stop your day, you’re there, you immerse yourself in it. And you’re in one point of view, one edit. That’s what’s happening right now in the world in general: everything has to be for everybody, edible for everybody, easy to understand for everybody, and we miss a point of view.
VINOODH MATADIN — We need editors.
INEZ VAN LAMSWEERDE —
I think that’s where the magazine comes in. Its function is to say: “This is the world we’re offering to you from our point of view.” And that’s what more than ever before, people need,
but it’s being forgotten because of commercialism, globalism, and accessibility. The way things are changing in terms of inclusivity, race, and gender is incredibly important. But it doesn’t mean that you can’t have a personal point of view. I feel right now the vibe is to not have a point of view, and to please everything and everybody out of fear of criticism. I think the world needs more points of view.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Going back to magazines: is there something or someone that you dream of photographing?
VINOODH MATADIN — We always say there should be more writers. Why are intellectual people not seen as glamorous, as style icons?
INEZ VAN LAMSWEERDE — It’s exactly that, yes — scientists, artists, writers, philosophers. Why aren’t they being pushed up?
OLIVIER ZAHM — Can you see yourselves moving into film?
INEZ VAN LAMSWEERDE — Definitely. We optioned a book by Bruce Sterling, who’s a futurist. He actually wrote a short story based on our work for the book we published 10 years ago. So, we optioned his book, Holy Fire, which is a coming-of-age story about a 94-year-old woman who starts her life as a 21-year-old girl again, after a life-extension procedure. And she actually becomes a fashion photographer. It takes place 100 years from now. It’s super-duper early stages but, yes, exciting.
[Table of contents]
elein fleiss (part 0)Read the article
martin margiela (part 1)Read the article
martin margiela collages for purple 30yrsRead the article
wolfgang tillmans (part 2)Read the article
rick at home rick owens 2022Read the article
purple community (part 3)Read the article
comme des garçons (part 4)Read the article
black rose comme des garçons f/w 2022
by chikashi suzuki
purple tokyo (part 5)Read the article
tateishi east tokyo givenchy f/w 2022Read the article
purple new york (part 6)Read the article
guinevere in prada f/w 2022Read the article
chloë sevigny (part 7)Read the article
chloë’s scene, 2022 interview by olivier zahmRead the article
maurizio cattelan (part 8)Read the article
maurizio cattelan purple interviewRead the article
bernadette corporation (part 9)Read the article
speaking out bernadette van-huyRead the article
dominique gonzalez-foerster (part 10)Read the article
species of spaces dominique gonzalez-foerster interview by olivier zahmRead the article
rita ackermann (part 11)Read the article
final fantasy inez & vinoodhRead the article
purple night (part 13)Read the article
doppelgänger fendi f/w 2022Read the article
glenn o’brien (part 14)Read the article
dash snow (part 15)Read the article
long live dash by glenn o’brienRead the article
juergen teller (part 16)Read the article
balenciaga winter 2022Read the article
purple sex (part 17)Read the article
emporio armani f/w 2022Read the article
purple politics (part 18)Read the article
on war and its dehumanization bernard-henri lévyRead the article
purple paris (part 19)Read the article
3537 a new fashion lab in the heart of paris adrian joffeRead the article
daniel roseberry the american designer reinventing schiaparelli surrealismRead the article
purple icon (part 20)Read the article
catherine deneuve in saint laurent f/w 2022Read the article
purple cinema (part 21)Read the article
philippe parrenoRead the article
david lynchRead the article
larry clarkRead the article
wes andersonRead the article
harmony korineRead the article
gaspar noéRead the article
Gus Van SantRead the article
abel ferraraRead the article
mamoru oshiiRead the article
kenneth angerRead the article
los angeles (part 22)Read the article
wilderness doug aitkenRead the article
gucci cosmogonie collectionRead the article
how to inhabit the world (part 23)Read the article
louis vuitton F/W 2022 with akon changkouRead the article
purple diversity (part 24)Read the article
purple mexico city (part 25)Read the article
deconstruction meets destruction azzmmaRead the article
arca in loewe F/W 2022Read the article
art as a script mario garcía torresRead the article
inge grognard (part 26)Read the article
beauty revolutionary inge grognardRead the article
avant-garde (part 27)Read the article
louise giovanelliRead the article
george rouyRead the article
stefan brüggemannRead the article
antony cairnsRead the article
antonia showeringRead the article
arthur jafa in conversation with michéle lamyRead the article
purple philosophy (part 28)Read the article
women and painting (part 29)Read the article
women and painting: part 1Read the article
women and painting: part 2Read the article
women and painting: part 3Read the article
women and painting: part 4Read the article
women and painting: part 5Read the article
women and painting: part 6Read the article
women and painting: part 7Read the article
women and painting: part 8Read the article
women and painting: part 9Read the article
women and painting: part 10Read the article
women and painting: part 11Read the article
women and painting: part 12Read the article
women and painting: part 13Read the article
richard prince (part 30)Read the article