Kate & Camilla

 
Groucho Marx sang the praises of famous pairs:
“Boy meets girl. Romeo and Juliet. Minneapolis and St.
Paul.” Add to the list Kate and Camilla, a team of photographers
who shared a camera one semester at Smith College and never put it (or
each other) down. They do fashion shoots, but sometimes there are no
people in them—just empty pants and boots, lounging in a field.
They do portraits—of the manicurist Joe Shepard,
forexample—but where his head should be, there’s the grave,
iridescent-scaled face of a red snapper, held up like a commedia
dell’arte mask. The people in Kate and Camilla’s work have
texture, combination skin, complex lives, sweat, and occasional drips of
fish blood.

Perhaps because of the photographers’ oft-stated
willingness to photograph “anything” (which has come in
handy for their Nerve.com blog), remarkable people tend to seek them
out. One such figure is the singer Chan Marshall, known as Cat Power,
whom they shot provocatively sporting a plastic tiger mask for
Venus magazine. Kate says that part of what made the shoot so fun
was that “the three of us—myself, Camilla, and
Chan—were given free rein.” Matador spokesman Nils Bernstein
knew they’d ace it: “I’ve seen them compared to Inez
van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin, which I can see, but Kate and
Camilla’s work doesn’t always have that icy perfection. They
seem to love the tiny flaws and behavioral quirks that make people
beautiful.” Along the same lines, Caroline Priebe, founder and
designer of Uluru (a clothing line they’ve also shot for), calls
their photos “striking, shiny, crisp, intimate, sexy, and almost
edible.”

In practical terms, how do two talented and
strong-minded photographers (who went on to study at the Art Institute
of Chicago) avoid stepping on each other’s toes? “Our
collaboration requires us to constantly be evolving,” Camilla
says; Kate adds serenely, “Frustrations often lead to revelations,
and vice versa.” Of their style in the studio, Priebe observes,
“Kate ends up behind the camera more, with Camilla doing a lot of
styling and working with the model and light. Camilla shoots more of the
portrait-like shots.” For HONEST magazine’s film
issue, the two shot actors “auditioning” for a faux Western.
As HONEST’s Cary Murnion, who calls himself an
“admirer from afar,” notes fondly, “Just reading their
blog, you can see that they’re like a weird mix of sisters, best
friends, and competitors all wrapped into one.”

For their
“Lovely” series, in which faces gaze like living statues
from the far side of the frame, Camilla says the photos “were made
half accidentally, half very anally. I like the sterility, the
unmitigated beauty.” Meanwhile, how about all the dead fish that
keep swimming into their portfolio? Camilla isn’t thrilled about
handling them, but they do make for an excellent metaphor: “One
nice thing about photography is the limitations it imposes. Crappy
people, if they’re beautiful, interesting-looking, you can just
look at them and not deal with their crap. It’s like beautiful
smelly fish—they photograph well, and there’s no
Smell-O-Vision.”

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