Kate & Camilla

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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 photographerswho shared a camera one semester at Smith College and never put it (oreach other) down. They do fashion shoots, but sometimes there are nopeople 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 commediadell’arte mask. The people in Kate and Camilla’s work havetexture, combination skin, complex lives, sweat, and occasional drips offish blood.

Perhaps because of the photographers’ oft-statedwillingness to photograph “anything” (which has come inhandy for their Nerve.com blog), remarkable people tend to seek themout. One such figure is the singer Chan Marshall, known as Cat Power,whom they shot provocatively sporting a plastic tiger mask forVenus magazine. Kate says that part of what made the shoot so funwas that “the three of us—myself, Camilla, andChan—were given free rein.” Matador spokesman Nils Bernsteinknew they’d ace it: “I’ve seen them compared to Inezvan Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin, which I can see, but Kate andCamilla’s work doesn’t always have that icy perfection. Theyseem to love the tiny flaws and behavioral quirks that make peoplebeautiful.” Along the same lines, Caroline Priebe, founder anddesigner of Uluru (a clothing line they’ve also shot for), callstheir photos “striking, shiny, crisp, intimate, sexy, and almostedible.”

In practical terms, how do two talented andstrong-minded photographers (who went on to study at the Art Instituteof Chicago) avoid stepping on each other’s toes? “Ourcollaboration requires us to constantly be evolving,” Camillasays; 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 ofstyling and working with the model and light. Camilla shoots more of theportrait-like shots.” For HONEST magazine’s filmissue, 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 theirblog, you can see that they’re like a weird mix of sisters, bestfriends, and competitors all wrapped into one.”

For their “Lovely” series, in which faces gaze like living statuesfrom the far side of the frame, Camilla says the photos “were madehalf accidentally, half very anally. I like the sterility, theunmitigated beauty.” Meanwhile, how about all the dead fish thatkeep swimming into their portfolio? Camilla isn’t thrilled abouthandling them, but they do make for an excellent metaphor: “Onenice thing about photography is the limitations it imposes. Crappypeople, if they’re beautiful, interesting-looking, you can justlook at them and not deal with their crap. It’s like beautifulsmelly fish—they photograph well, and there’s noSmell-O-Vision.”