Ioulex Reporting from Fashion Week

We interrupt our regularly scheduled blog posts to bring you a report from fashion week. On occasion, we like to break from our regular stream of interviews and guest posts to highlight major events throughout the world and, in this case, fashion week is our focus. We’re partnering with ioulex to bring you daily coverage of fashion week in Milan (February 23-28) and Paris (March 1-9). We’ve equipped the ioulex team with two Leica M9 cameras and they’ll be documenting the shows with a daily photo diary, which we will be publishing here on the Leica blog.

Ioulex is a photography duo composed of Julia Koteliansky and Alexander Kerr. They met in Paris while attending Parsons School of Design. They most recently had their second solo exhibition in December 2010 to January 2011, at Audio Visual Arts gallery in New York where the dynamic duo is based. Julia and Alexander have been commissioned for photographic assignments by several prominent national and international publications including Die Zeit, Grazia and Time Out New York among others. This year they have been covering both seasons of fashion week for the New York Times.

We had the opportunity to chat with Julia and Alexander, right before they departed for Milan by way of Paris, about how they managed to find themselves capturing the chaos backstage at fashion week. Here, Julia and Alexander tell us the story of ioulex.

Q: Can you tell us a little bit about the history of ioulex? How did you two find each other and how did your professional collaboration come about?

Julia: We met in Paris while we were both students at Parsons School of Design. At the time, Alexander was studying illustration and I graphic design, somehow we ended up doing each other’s homework or working on our assignments together. So it was by no means professional or official, but our collaboration began there. It’s as if we decided to take over each other’s education; we really had a good time.

Q: What was each of your respective journeys as photographers?

Julia: I’m not sure if we have enough distance to contemplate our journey as photographers. We met when we were both 20 years old and we’ve been living and working together since then. So it’s all blended in together and is one ever evolving work in progress.

Alexander: As Julia said, it is hard to have perspective on something you are in the middle of, but for me it has been surprising to discover and rediscover how varied the required skill set is for a photographer. So I would say it’s been a journey of flexibility.

Q: Did you have any formal education in photography, with a mentor, or were you self taught. Was there a photographer or type of photography that influenced your work or inspired you?

Julia: Neither of us studied photography officially. We went to art school so we took some classes and a lot of our friends were photographers. Although we both took a lot of pictures and were clearly obsessed with images (photography and video) we chose to study other disciplines, which in the end, I think was a good choice that shaped our perspective on image making. I think it’s interesting to keep the amateur spirit – a kind of naive enthusiasm for the medium that can be so easily crushed by academia and later on by professional realities. As far as influences, I’ve been especially interested in cinematography and inspired by the work of Sasha Verny, Sven Nykvist, Tarkovsky, Paradjanov, and John Cassavetes.

Alexander: Maybe I just like to do things the hard way because I have never specifically reached out to other photographers and I don’t have any education in photography. I see photography as an exercise in seeing and I came to photography more from a perspective of drawing and painting. I find it helpful to seek inspiration in other mediums, like painting and cinema.

Q: How did you get involved in shooting fashion shows?

Julie & Alexander: It wasn’t something we were pursuing, until we were asked by The Block magazine to shoot backstage at a United Bamboo show in New York to illustrate a story about the designers and their latest collection. The art director gave us total freedom to interpret what we saw and we chose to shoot a mix of black & white and color film with our Leicas. He loved the story and next season asked us to cover several shows during New York Fashion Week. After that, we started working with T: The New York Times Style Magazine shooting at the fashion shows in Milan.

Q: Your photos focus on the behind-the-scenes, backstage view on the fashion shows. Can you tell us a bit more about that?

Julia: When we shoot backstage at the shows, we become part of the scene and do our best to blend in, which is not very hard since they are so many participants: models, makeup and hair teams, dressers, all sorts of assistants and many other photographers and videographers. It’s a war zone and can be disorienting until you start to understand the general flow. We always try to calmly assess the situation and come up with some kind of strategy to conquer it, i.e. get our pictures and leave. Things happen very fast and if you don’t know what you’re looking for, the opportunities vanish.

Alexander: Backstage there are so many people and different agendas. But, at the best shows, rather than collide they somehow all push in the same direction. When we are backstage, our mission is to show that energy and to try and communicate the unique elements that create it.

Q: In addition to fashion, what other genres are your photos?

Julia: Fashion, portraiture and personal work. Although sometimes it’s hard to separate the genres. We really feel like there should be the same voice or point-of-view throughout everything we do. We noticed that our best work never quite fits in a category — a fashion story that looks like portraiture, portraits that look like reportage, fine art series with a fashion model, etc.

Q: Can you talk a bit about how you two work together? What is your method of cooperation, how do you divide tasks, etc.

Julia: We have different personalities and sometimes diametrically opposed perspectives, so we try to take advantage of it. It really helps to be two; there’s always plenty to do for both of us on set. We’re observant of each other and we both noticed that sometimes we mimic each other’s special tricks, which always makes better use of them. It’s a layered way of working that makes it exciting for us.

Q: Which approaches and perspectives do you share and which are different?

Alexander: We share all perspectives between ourselves and try not to argue on set!

Q: Can you talk about what equipment you use to shoot the fashion shows? What lenses do you use? What were you using prior to receiving the M9s?

Julia & Alexander: We use our Leicas — M3 and M6 usually with 50mm lenses, Noctilux and a Summicron. The Noctilux wide-open is fantastic; it’s our special secret weapon. We try to use it in moderation because sometimes the pictures are just so flattering to the subject and we feel the need to compensate with something a little more analytical to achieve something more graphically intense and a bit coarse, if less mesmerizing. We always think of images in a series, as a portfolio and since we both shoot, we end up with a lot of material to edit. It’s important for us to have different lenses as a way to form a balanced perspective and a sustained point-of-view. We have a bit of a collection of older Leica lenses that we constantly put to use, besides the Noctilux (from the ‘80s), a pre-war Summar and a Tele-Elmarit 90mm.

Q: Why do you find the M9 to be best suited for shooting the shows?

Julia & Alexander: We’re perfectly happy shooting film with an M3 and M6. We love these cameras and are not looking for an upgrade of any sort, there’s just not much to add or subtract from them. Besides, there’s an undeniable element of magic associated with the fact that we’re using the same tools as some of our heroes. We still felt this way, but there came a point when we had a 24-hour deadline to release the images for publication, so the M9 is the only digital solution for us. It allows us to keep shooting the way we love, using our wonderful lenses on a camera that’s small, reliable and discreet, sort of a perfect partner-in-crime.

-Leica Internet Team

You can see more of ioulex’s coverage from last season’s Milan Fashion Week here, http://www.ioulex.com/work/nytimes-milan/. You can also find their other work by visiting their site, http://ioulex.com and blog http://ioulex.blogspot.com.