Image Makers: Icon Shapers

Inside the Minds of Markus + Indrani

Steven Hempel
Posted:
October 29, 2012

This month’s PaperCity features the indelible imagery of Markus + Indrani, the celebrity-and-fashion-photography duo whose portrait of international style icon Daphne Guinness graces our November cover. The global, New York–based power couple — Swiss-born Markus Klinko and Indian-born Indrani Pal-Chaudhuri — have collaborated for almost two decades. Like Helmut Newton, a talent they admire, they’ve infiltrated the fine art world and now the kingdom of cinema. This fall, they celebrate the launch of their first photography book, fittingly titled Icons, with a public art exhibition opening Wednesday, November 7, at New York’s Lincoln Center — as well as the release of a short film on the remarkable Miz Guinness, The Legend of Lady White Snake. Their award-winning photography has appeared on unforgettable album covers, from Beyoncé and David Bowie to Mary J. Blige and Mariah Carey; in ad campaigns for Pepsi, Nike, L’Oréal Paris, Lancôme and De Beers; on the covers and pages of Vanity Fair, Rolling Stone, Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue and The New York Times; and in more than 20 exhibitions worldwide. Hempel Design’s Steven Hempel sits down with the image-makers to probe two talents at the intersection of art, fashion, fame and photography.

Markus Klinko

In the beginning. I grew up in Switzerland, studied in Paris and was a classically trained harpist. I actually lived in Dallas for a short period in the late 1980s, around 1987/1988. I have fond memories of Texas; it was a wonderful place to live.

The work. I admire the photography of Helmut Newton and Herb Ritts. They produced celebrity photography with a classic aesthetic that is really visually driven. For me, I want to produce work that has an “iconic” effect. To create images that show the emotional connection between the camera and the subject. To convey the force and strength in the people I shoot and capture the magic inside them. To forget about everything else and just create an image that captures the moment. 

How you traded the harp for the camera. It’s something I decided I would do based strictly on faith. After a hand injury forced me to abandon my music career, I decided to become a photographer at age 33. I just decided to do it. I wasn’t scared, but rather 100 percent committed to it. I hadn’t really led a normal life and perhaps had become a bit spoiled because of the success of my music career. So it was all a bit eye-opening. Suddenly I was one photographer among millions, where I had become used to being catered to, driven to events, being photographed. I believe it was something that was good for me.
 
The shoot. Our approach has changed; I believe the changes are reflective of the changes in me. When I began, I was overzealous. I had a lot to prove. We constructed large sets with lots of equipment. We had more people involved in the shoots. Now we work smaller, the shoots are carefully planned, but there is more room for spontaneity in the process. It keeps us open to new opportunities and better able to take advantage of things that larger, more involved shoots are unable to do. We used to depend much more on technical tools; this is not the case now.
 
The big break. Really, it was three or four things that happened all around the same time. In early 2000, Isabella Blow asked us to shoot several covers for the London Sunday Times. Around the same time, Interview Magazine asked us to begin shooting celebrities for them. We were then asked by Iman to shoot the cover of her book, which was a tremendous honor. David Bowie liked the work so much he asked us to shoot the cover for his album Heathen, which became very successful. We then did the shoot for GQ’s Man of the Year and were asked to shoot for L’Oréal Paris, all in a short period of time. These events really conspired to launch our career and form the core of the material in Icons. Another true milestone was the album cover for Beyoncé’s debut album, Dangerously in Love, in early 2003.
 
Destiny and Indrani. Perhaps … It was really all by chance. Indrani was a successful model that really would have never photographed with me at the time. But I happened to be there in the right place at the right time. Soon after taking up photography, I was at Wilhelmina, where we met. She had just arrived to the city, and there was a need to have her shot immediately. I was there and given the opportunity. That was the beginning.

Signature style. I would like to think it is like the title of our book, that our style is iconic. I feel it’s sophisticated and glamorous. We always want to produce work that is as fresh today as when it was shot, even if that was 15 years ago. I would like to think our work has a bit of a classic appeal to it.
 
You and Indrani. Well, we are completely opposite. We have very different backgrounds; she has a more intellectual point of view. My upbringing was much different. I grew up completely focused on music. While we are very different, there is strength in the creative tension between us. And we have no barriers. We each speak our minds and work very well together. Any differences we have are always settled, and the process and our team help to create amazing work.

The book. We’ve been solicited by many publishers over time, but we wanted to make the right book with the right people. We’ve done that and been able to create something that’s accessible to everyone. It’s a worldwide release, and we’ve created something wonderful that is beautifully produced, is 224 pages and will cost only $16.

Why now. Because it is a way to tell our story. To focus on our work and make a statement. Following the TV show [Double Exposure, which ran on Bravo in 2010], I felt it was necessary to show that we take our work seriously. Also, perhaps it’s the beginning of a new chapter for our work.

Dream shoot. The more you photograph, the more you realize there are so many amazing people that you haven’t shot. I would love to shoot Madonna, the Obamas, Brad [Pitt] and Angelina [Jolie], Nicki Minaj,
to name a few.



Indrani Pal-Chaudhuri

India as muse. I think a lot of my influence comes from my background. Being Indian, where our culture celebrates women as the iconic feminine idea, has definitely influenced my aesthetic approach.

End game. My goal is to bring out the divine spark in the subject I’m photographing — the thing that transcends the physical being. It’s about getting to know the subject, finding what makes them extraordinary. We tend to know the things that make them famous. I look for something that is unknown and try to bring it to light.

You and the subject. I want to let them be comfortable, let them breathe, let them laugh, let them dance. Find ways that capture the essence of who they are.

You and the camera. I’ve always loved photography. I began as a model but always wanted to be the one taking the pictures. I’m fascinated by storytelling and making films; it was always a goal of mine to create images. I also love the people we meet, seeing different parts of the world, learning new things.
 
Fashion versus art. I guess you could say I am an artist, but I’m not sure that is really the right word. I’m constantly redefining myself. I love directing. Film is a huge passion of mine. I guess you could say I’m a creator.

Why you’re not an accountant. Well, I grew up in a traditional home. Both parents were accountants. They kept waiting for me to become an accountant or something more traditional. But I’ve always wanted to create art and things that help transform people.

Cinema calling. I would really like to make a feature film. I will definitely continue with photography. But I have several projects that I’d like to make happen. I would like to explore taking some of my photography into the realm of fine art … an interesting intersection of pop culture and art.

On your collaboration. It has changed quite a bit over time. When I began, I was very shy. Markus was always confident, and I would whisper to him that we should do this or that. As we’ve grown over time, you could really say that we’ve almost switched roles. We both definitely have our voices heard now, but it’s a creative process, really, involving our entire team, and it works very well. When I met Markus, I went home and told my friends that I had just met the man who would be my best friend. We do come from different viewpoints, but we’re both connected with the same spirit. We are very different. He’s Swiss — very precise, orderly. I come from a very different background; I believe that chaos is a natural part of the world, that there are multiple truths to many things, and that you must embrace the journey that life takes you on. But we’re a kind of strange organism that works so well together, almost like a monster with two heads (laughs). We truly appreciate one another.

Key to success. I think it’s about passion. Giving 1,000 percent all the time, making sure everyone is happy. The team helps us create a vision, and then we find the sparks from the people we photograph.

Behind the lens. There have really been dramatic changes in the photography world. There are millions of amateur photographers now as equipment has become so widely available. In addition, the magazine industry went through a decline, with the Web taking over, so it seems like there has been a shift to of quantity over quality. We’ve responded by really focusing on what we do. Creating production value without the need for a big budget. Being more flexible and creating sets that are less complex. We really are a team that comes together to produce spectacular images.

Fame game. Yes, celebrity can be a dirty word. Everyone wants to be a celebrity now. It doesn’t matter what business you’re in. I think there is a new appreciation for being famous, even being famous for being famous. But it’s not as easy as it seems. In fact, being famous for being famous is one of the hardest things you can do. What we do is look for the special qualities in celebrities, and that’s what we try to capture.

On Icons. Why now. To me, it’s so interesting to see the similarities and differences in the images we’ve produced. We’ve been working for almost 20 years, so there are so many intriguing people we’ve photographed. And I really think it just makes sense for us now. We want to give fans who’ve been exposed around the world to our work a chance to see more.

Cause that matters. I created a school in India to help underprivileged children. I’m really focused on education and women’s empowerment, which I believe go hand in hand.

Casting Daphne. I worked with Daphne on a photo shoot for Keep a Child Alive, a nonprofit that serves those affected by HIV/AIDS in Africa. We had a great connection, and I felt she would be perfect embodiment of the character for my film, The Legend of Lady White Snake.
 
Photography and charity. For me, charity always comes first. I use the money and the notoriety of my work to fuel what we do with my charitable school in India (seeschool.org) and for other causes.
 
On Rembrandt and Man Ray. I get excited by Eastern philosophy, stories and myths. I studied anthropology at Princeton and have a real interest in people and culture. I love the work of Rembrandt, the way he portrayed the depth and emotion of his subjects and the details and richness of his work. And I like the work of Man Ray, as well as the surrealist filmmakers of the ’20s.


 
Styling/production design by GK Reid for Genghis Khan. For commercial direction, representation by Aero Film.

 

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