Photographic Duos is a feature from Loupe, exploring collaboration in photography through a series of interviews with creatives working in pairs. We discuss varying approaches to collaboration, considering issues of co-authorship alongside the benefits of collective creativity.
Interview by Harry Flook
Luke and Nik, a part London part Copenhagan based duo, have been working together for 9 years. Their playful approach to fashion has won them work with an impressive list of clients, including Stella McCartney, Tommy Hilfiger and Jigsaw, as well as editorial platforms such as Metal and New York Magazine. In this interview we discuss their shared approach to briefs and the value they place in collaboration.
Harry Flook: Can you talk about the first project you worked on together, how did it come about and what was that process like?
Luke Norman: We were tasked with organising an exhibition together as part of our second year photography course at university, and instead of showing our own individual work as we had done previously, we thought it could present some interesting and unpredictable results if we tried making images together. So we went out to the woods (in Farnham where we studied) and made our first images together. It was completely instinctive and there was no real concept behind the work that we made, but it acted as our first steps toward working together and we never looked back since.
HF: Since then you’ve worked together for 9 years, with totally shared authorship over the work. This kind of ongoing collaboration seems relatively rare within photography. Why do you think that is?
Nik Adam: Working together isn’t for everyone and we only really know one way, which is the way that we work. So whenever we are asked about how other duos work, we can’t really comment, as naturally there are many different ways of doing things. For us though, we’ve learnt so much from each other and I think we give each other a confidence to try new ideas, especially when on a commission. For example knowing that Luke has my back to explore a concept, even if the art director doesn’t think its a good idea, gives a certain reassurance to take chances and try new things. Which is very important to us developing as photographers.
HF: When you’re on a commission, do you both use the camera equally, or does one take more the role of stylist/director and the other photographer?
LN: It’s all 50/50. We both shoot, art direct, edit and anything that we have to do. This way if one of us is unavailable for whatever reason, we can keep on working. I think also both having an understanding of each stage in the process is important to us. There are often times when one of us learns something new, a new tool or technique for shooting or production, and the other one is always keen to catch up.
HF: What issues come up when collaborating, and how do you work through these?
LN: Before any reconciliation can happen, it’s important that we can listen to each other. Naturally there are differences of opinion, but we always hear what the other has to say and usually if there is a still a disagreement where one of us is more adamant than the other, we trust the other enough to see the idea through from their perspective. Without that trust for one another, the idea of collaboration just won’t work. We have seen it from that side when on commission. If we don’t have the full trust from an art director and begin making too many concessions for them, it stops being a collaboration and the creativity suffers as a result..
HF: Stylistically, your work has a consistent character, though you often seem to experiment with different approaches, for example when you’ve painted over photographs. How much do you pre plan your shoots and what is that process like?
LN: It’s interesting, we can only really talk about how we are feeling in our approach now, but hopefully these sentiments have always been present and will remain so. More so than ever, we are currently very focused on the subject matter and characters involved in the work we produce. We recently shot a fashion feature for Metal Magazine, where we used models with physical disabilities. To our knowledge this is a poorly represented demographic in the fashion world, but who are just as beautiful and interesting as anyone else. The main reason we work with fashion, rather than still life for example is not fashion itself but the power which fashion has to reflect society and contribute positive changes. With that in mind, we are making a more more conscious effort to think through who and what we are photographing. So to come back to your question, these are the important elements to plan and consider before hand, in order to give these ideas time to settle and think through.
But on a more simplistic and logistical level, we have learnt through the years that planning before hand can eliminate a lot of stress and potential hiccups when it comes to shooting on the day.
HF: Do you ever find that clients are reluctant to work with you as you’re a duo, or do they tend to embrace it?
LN: Not that we have come across yet, I guess they don’t get in touch if they are unsure. It’s always a good talking point on set, as people are curious to know how it works and to learn about our dynamic. I always find it funny when people say they have an idea of how we are before hand by looking at our work. It’s funny, as I can recognise it in myself when you watch a film or listen to music by an artist you complete a self-made impression of their identity.
HF: Aside from commissions are you working on any long term projects together?
NA: We’re often asked this and we always answer by saying we are working on our personal projects. Which I guess is always true, as every photographer is always thinking about personal work in their free time. Between working on commissions and life happening. It’s been a long time since we embarked on a substantial personal project. But after reflecting on it a lot lately and recognising an itch to embark on something bigger, I’m sure we’ll take those initial steps soon. We have been making small personal projects here and there, but I think it’s time to tackle something a bit bigger. I hope the next time we are asked this question we can give a different answer for once!
HF: We look forward to seeing the result. Finally, tell us what you most enjoy about working together rather than individually?
NA: We get on really well and working together is fun, that is by far the most enjoyable part. It is amazing to share this journey with someone, we are very lucky to experience all the things that we do through photography and it’s a gift to have someone with you to share those moments.