After making its debut in Hong Kong and with a stop in Barcelona, the new Loewe exhibition “Fragments of a Story: 168 years of Loewe” has finally arrived in Madrid. For this special occasion, the internationally renowned still life artists, Schelten and Abbenes, have been invited to offer a new perspective on Loewe’s iconic bags, silks, window displays and advertising campaigns. An ingenious use of mirror installations and collages create a dazzling kaleidoscope effect to present Loewe in their own characteristic and captivating visual language. We took this opportunity to talk to the Dutch duo to understand how the exhibit was created and to get a better insight of their artwork.
You have been working as a professional duo since 2002, but what was your first project together and how do you feel about it from today’s perspective?
One of our first projects together was for Habitat. Looking back, it seems completely natural to start working together like we did. Individually we were both working in the creative field and then everything gradually developed to where we are now.
Based in Amsterdam, how does the city influence you professionally and how important is it to you and your work to be visible internationally?
Amsterdam is a rather good city to pull back from if you want to get some work done, and at the same time we like it for its lifestyle, but it is true that the Dutch magazines are not wide spread because of the language. Working overseas means more interesting series to make and that is incredibly important to us.
Your still lives present a uniquely photographic perspective, creating illusions and extremely neat and captivating final images. What does the term ‘still life’ mean to you?
We like the idea that everything can be still life. In our case it is important that we can work on it in a meticulous way, moving elements by inches. With a living model this is not a practical way of working.
How would you describe your signature photographic style?
Photographic still lives with a graphic edge. Everything in the picture matters. We don’t like to label our work too much as a style because we like to keep our eyes open for something we didn’t do before or even go against our own imagination, always looking for something fresh.
When you’re designing a shot, what are the key elements you look at to get it just right?
This needs to be studied while looking through the camera and changing the set. Every idea needs a different rule to work with.
What kind of experience do you think your Loewe exhibit can offer? Was the viewer a strong consideration for you?
From the beginning we were informed about the way the exhibition was designed. It was the basis for the photo shoot. Working with mirrors, knowing the pictures would be blown up to big formats. We are actually the viewer while making the work, so obviously we like the viewer to see the things we like them to see.
What were the main challenges you faced to present the most iconic pieces of Loewe in such a masterful way?
We treat all pieces as a kind of building blocks for a composition. For us it’s not about our personal taste. Everything can work to make the picture complete. This is a puzzle that needs to fall into place and it’s a great feeling when it finally does!
What part of the whole project for Loewe did you enjoy the most?
Once we were on the right track, maybe after the first three. But at the start it’s hard and exciting too, seeing how the ideas grow in front of the camera and to be able to fit all the material inside the picture without trying too hard. It’s all important and joyful.
You used mirrors and collage on the installation to present the Loewe universe, allowing visitors to get views from different angles. How was the “Fragments of a story” concept formulated and what was the driving inspiration behind the project?
There wasn’t a formula as such. We worked from the exhibition concept with mirrors and looked for an abstract way to not compete with the actual products shown in the exhibition.
Do you have a preferred image in the Loewe exhibit?
Sometimes we think we do but it changes during the shoot because the series grows. If we had a favourite it means that we went wrong somewhere. The idea is to keep going, moving objects around until we no longer see an option.
What role does the client play in your creative process?
When it comes to creativity, it’s better not to care too much. We need the space to play and it can be wrong if too many different interests come into play. Once we are on track, we communicate with all people involved almost like normal people!
When you’re off set, where do you find creative inspiration?
All around us and art in general. It’s incredible how work sometimes can be so strong because of its consistency, originality and truth which ultimately leads to beauty.
How do you develop the ideas for creating the sets?
We start with a wide open view. After looking for images within the wide concept, we get closer to a certain direction. We try the idea in front of the camera and this is the place where the idea grows into something more specific. Seeing is believing!
What other media you do feel has been, as yet, unexplored in your work and which you might consider in the future?
Moving stills…
In the past few years still life has proved to be very popular, being rediscovered as a viable mode of artistic image making. What do you feel are the current trends within photography and, in your opinion, what differentiates something from a trend to something more substantial?
When we see something close to a trend we know it’s time to go the other way. Substance remains but we need to keep a close and good look on what we see and what we make and check if this all makes sense.
In what direction would you like your work to evolve in the future?
That is the whole great thing… not to know. The work itself is telling us.
* The exhibition will be held in Madrid until the 18th May at Serrano, 26.