At the end of October, Markus Klinko and Indrani Pal-Chaudhuri’s very first book of images will be published. Icons: The Celebrity Exposures of Markus and Indrani (Running Press) is a watershed moment for photography’s number-one power couple, illustrating in many ways how they have matured alongside digital photography over the last 17 years they have spent together as the illustrious team. The title is a bit of a double entendre, as well, because the two are perhaps the most famous working couple in all of photography, even finding themselves in front of the camera in 2010 when Bravo centered a six-episode series called Double Exposure on the duo and the background histrionics of putting together high-profile, big-budget shoots for A-list guest stars like Lady Gaga and Lindsay Lohan. This isn’t the first time the two have had a taste of celebrity—Klinko first started as a world-class harpist while Indrani started life in photography as a model—but it’s fortuitous timing as the Bravo series is bringing them quite a bit of mainstream attention while the Icons book also sums up a large chapter of their prodigious history.
The last time DPP spoke with MARKUS + INDRANI was in regard to the cover of the November 2011 issue, a dreamlike portrait of ingénue actress Anne Hathaway. During our discussion on the process behind the creation of the image, the two often spoke like fraternal twins, completing each other’s sentences while at the same time offering almost completely opposite opinions on many of the topics that we discussed.
It’s this cognitive dissonance that exists between the two and their famously aggressive "point-counterpoint" collaborative approach to image-making that helps them to refine their images on set while also being able to engage high-profile egos behind the scenes. Sometimes these discussions can become heated, not unexpectedly for a professional couple who were linked romantically for eight of their 17 years together.
But the two even now refer to themselves as best friends, and what’s more, photographers who are as smart and successful as MARKUS + INDRANI (Indrani is a magna cum laude graduate from Princeton) are quite capable of learning from their mistakes, including a very public bankruptcy that was finalized in late 2010. A full production with MARKUS + INDRANI can cost clients hundreds of thousands of dollars, and thanks largely to an arena of dwindling income and exponentially exploding competition, the two had to retire their eight-year-old Soho shooting loft last year while taking a massively introspective look at how they work as a team. Take, for example, a scene in Double Exposure where Klinko uses a laser pointer to measure his hotel room. This, he explains to the camera, is to prove to Indrani that she has the larger room during their travels. "I’m sort of surprised," laughs Klinko, "that during the Bravo show we actually produced some of our very best work. I think that the adrenaline of making a TV show might have contributed to that."
I’m sort of surprised," laughs Klinko, "that during the Bravo show we actually produced some of our very best work. I think that the adrenaline of making a TV show might have contributed to that.
Indrani handles the majority of the business and oversight aspects behind the team, and she’s characteristically optimistic about the experience of Double Exposure, though she also admits that it was a learning process.
"I wrote the treatment for the Bravo piece," she says, "and the end result didn’t quite follow what we were hoping to achieve, which was to really give our audience a window into the creative process and how those iconic images come to life because, that, in itself, is great drama. The story became a little bit more about us and ‘our’ dramas, which I don’t think are as interesting as the creative dramas, but, you know, plenty of people find that interesting, too."
Now the two are making a subtle, but important shift in the content that they’re pursuing, including more editorial and fashion-focused work, like Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith for The Times Magazine UK, as well as a shoot with TRON: Legacy beauty Olivia Wilde for a series of several covers across Modern Luxury Media city-based lifestyle magazines, including Angeleno, Houston and Miami. They also have found new representation with Angela De Bona, who reps world-class portraitists, including Jill Greenberg and Patrick Demarchelier.
"Something strange in our career," explains Klinko, "is that we haven’t done fashion as much. We started out 17 years ago wanting to be editorial fashion photographers and somehow we got sidetracked. We became successful at other things—celebrity portraiture, advertising, beauty work, cosmetics and all that stuff."
At the end of 2011, they also took a momentous move into filmmaking with the visually striking short film The Legend of Lady White Snake, which recently won Best Picture, Best Director, Best Fashion and Best Special Effects at the 2012 La Jolla Fashion Film Festival. Starring fashion icon and heiress Daphne Guinness, Indrani explains that the film is a modern retelling of an ancient Chinese fable, following a beautiful demoness who has lived for thousands of years only to fall disastrously in love with a mortal man.
"For me," Indrani explains happily, "this new departure—directing commercials and videos, and especially directing film—I feel like a kid again, and I’m so excited! It’s so invigorating, and it’s just a wonderful thing to be in a creative field where we can keep expanding in these ways."
Digital cinema RED Epic cameras were employed by director of photography Pergrin Jung to achieve the grandiose look of the film, which incorporates a number of fantastical visual elements in the classic MARKUS + INDRANI style—shimmering wardrobe as a posthumous tribute to the designs of Alexander McQueen, expansive Blade Runner-esque scenic backdrops and gothic-couture styling from MARKUS + INDRANI’s frequent collaborator, GK Reid, who also used the film premiere in New York during fashion week to debut his own "Genghis Khan" line of fashion.
While Indrani was acting as head of the filmmaking process, Klinko was hard at work on a complementary series of images that go far beyond the typical publicity still. Priced at $40,000 each, 12 prints from the series were offered at the New York fashion-week premiere this past February. The sales benefited charity: water, which supplies clean drinking water to developing nations. Indrani, who was born in Kolkata, India, is a dedicated philanthropist, and she also directed a graphic short film designed to bring awareness to infanticide, child labor and sexual slavery through education of young girls in India. You can see the video and find out more about the project at www.thegirlepidemic.com. Teasers for The Legend of Lady White Snake currently can be found at Indrani’s YouTube account at www.youtube.com/IndraniPC.
es that the two have been approached about publishing a volume of their work many times in the past, but they had decided to wait for the right kind of deal rather than settling for a limited-edition run from a specialized book publisher.
"We didn’t want to produce a niche book," he says. "We like to bring photography to a much bigger audience."
When asked if he found any introspective moments while reviewing classic imagery from the pair for the book, Klinko says ironically that he feels he has grown the most as a photographer by learning to let go.
"I’m sometimes surprised at some of our early work and at how focused we were on the technical perfection," he says. "I think that back in those early years, we spent a great deal of interest and focus in making pictures as perfect as possible in a technical way. Our evolution is to step away from that and take things a little easier and to be a little bit more relaxed. I think that’s also why these images become more applicable to fashion and editorial, they’re more spontaneous, but still glamorous.
"I’m very comfortable to go to Central Park," he points out as an example, "with a little generator and a couple assistants and a light that we just wheel around the park, and then combine daylight and maybe a flash or whatever. I think 10 years ago I would have wanted a major army of assistants and huge loads of equipment. And I would really make sure that I got everything being lit under control the way that I want. If the sun was up or down, I wouldn’t care. I would want to be able to light that park up right. Today, I would much rather think, ‘Oh, the sun is so beautiful; maybe I don’t even need a light; maybe I’m just going to use this beautiful sun and maybe a reflector and, you know, let’s just see what’s going to happen.’ It’s very liberating to have that confidence."
The team is aware of what they bring to the table and aren’t too worried about most of the competition. "You can have a $200 camera and be the greatest artist and produce the most beautiful image," Klinko continues, "and you can be equipped with all the high-tech stuff—the best camera and the best lights—and be a hack. Technology is only getting better, but it doesn’t get easier, and that’s a very important point to make. These high-end cameras and super-high-definition digital backs, they’re difficult to use perfectly. They’re like a Ferrari. You have to be a pretty good driver to drive a Ferrari well, and I think you have to be a pretty good photographer to use an 80-megapixel back because it’s temperamental. It’s not very forgiving. That’s what I love about it."
Indrani adds that she welcomes the challenge. "We have to do more meaningful work that isn’t challenged by simple technological change," she explains. "I think that having the technological opening forces us to push ourselves much further and find things to distinguish ourselves as artists rather than just recording something pretty. I think it’s great. I think that we’re entering a new era of creative abundance, and that’s a wonderful thing."
See more of MARKUS + INDRANI’s work at www.markusklinko-indrani.com.