Idolize the Photographer: Sean + Seng (London)•
Posted on October 19 2011
By: Joie from www.lookbooks.com
The duo Sean & Seng impressed upon the fashion industry with their photography before they even graduated from university. Since their first campaign for Vivienne Westwood, they have gone on to shoot for some of the most prestigious magazines such as Arena Homme +, POP, Dazed and Confused and Numero. Provocative, but deftly elegant, their work seems to blur the boundaries between fashion photography and contemporary art. In our interview they explain the importance of working with strong women, why they like including animals in their shoots and what they have in common with David Lynch.
Joie: Your first gig was doing a shoot for Vivienne Westwood while you were still both at the University of Arts of London. How did she discover you and what was it like working with one of the most important names in Fashion for your first job?
Yeah we were both studying at the London Institute, where we met, and wearing lots of Vivienne Westwood everyday and hanging about in the Worlds End shop on the Kings Road. This is where we met Murray Blewett (head of design at Westwood) who asked us to go to the studio. We had no work, but got all dressed up, met Vivienne and shot our first story together. We worked for a couple of years together, then as we graduated we shot the campaign, which was really exciting.
Joie: You recently did a series for Pop with a flamingo, what was the idea behind this?
We love being at the bird park in Kuala Lumpur, and was thinking we really wanted to shoot birds. When we got back to London Tamara (fashion director at POP) was thinking about showgirls and we started thinking about this woman that was a showgirl, now living with her flamingo away from everything with all her amazing clothes... kind of a new-old Hollywood.
Joie: In fact, you seem to like to involve animals in a lot of your shoots (elephants, dogs, birds) etc. Is there a particular reason for this? What do they bring to your photography?
Animals are so interesting and have a lot of character in a photograph. Some feel so primitive and some even 'human'.
Joie: Your photographs often have a David Lynch feel in their composure and lighting (as in there is something indefinably timeless and ominous about them). Is he one of your influences?
We watch a lot of films together, almost one every night. And we love David Lynch; he has great references, I remember reading in an interview that he loved Carnival of Souls, which we then watched and really found inspiring. We're both teenagers when Twin Peaks was on television and I guess it left an impression.
Joie: You recently did the cover for Numero Homme, how did that come about?
We had been working at the Hotel Martinez during Cannes Film Festival, and just after it finished we decided to shoot the cover model Garrett on the roof, with the amazing 'MARTINEZ' sign in the background. The idea had been coming to us everyday while were working there, and Garrett was just brilliant. The magazine loved it and was so happy that they gave it the cover.
Joie: For Arena Homme +, you did a slightly more "documentary" series with Thai boys. Where was this shot and what was the motivation behind this project?
It was quite a personal project for Seng since he is from Malaysia. Ashley Heath the Editorial director of Arena Homme + sent us the project 'Touch', to go to Thailand and study the body language between very masculine boys, the way they might sit together, hold hands... a story of friendship. It was the first time we had done a full on fashion shoot in Asia. We drove around with Fashion Editor and Stylist Tamara (Rothstein) for hours and hours for three days going from kick boxing school to kick boxing school looking for interesting characters. It was such an amazing experience, one we both think about a lot, and would love to work again in this way. Thailand was a great place to shoot, we love the mix of the jungle and techno.
Joie: In the October issue of Dazed & Confused, the 20th Anniversary Special you made a pretty bold statement with model Jourdan Dunn that there once was a time back in the 90’s when models had beauty and the brains. What were the references behind this shoot and how do you think the modeling world has evolved from the 90’s to now?
It was Dazed's 20th anniversary issue, we were working around this idea of capturing moments from '91. I think with a story like that, you can't just have some blank girl, you need Jourdan. She's such an incredible model and character herself she never got lost. Obviously modeling is a very different game now to what is was. It's so huge now, so quick, I guess it means we don't have this group of very strong woman we can focus in on, like how it was before. Now it's so massive, but the characters are still there I believe... girls like Jourdan. I guess it's the same for everything these day, music, art, photography, writing... everything is so fast and we're swamped with so much, it becomes more rare for things and people to develop in the same way. But I don't believe that is not something that can't happen... it's just more rare.
Joie: L'Oreal commissioned you to do a series of beauty portraits for the Cannes Film Festival. You shot model Liya Kebede, who you also collaborated with for Pop (the Flamingo shoot), would you consider her your favorite model? And What was it like working with a legend like Jane Fonda?
We shot Liya for the first time during the project, she is such an elegant and intelligent lady. We only had a very short time with her, but it kind of left us dying for more. So we took the opportunity for the issue of POP that was coming up, we kind of knew she could take that crazy lady character, and make it feel chic.
The L'Oreal commission was really exciting actually, especially when we saw Jane's name on the list! We photographed her early on in the two week project, and it was such an honor as she really loved the image and came back to collect her personal copy of the print and asked us to shoot her again! So we photographed her just moments before she presented the Palme d'Or. She was wearing the sexiest, salmon pink, skin-tight dress.