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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.”