When reality pours into a photograph, what happens is life. This is also the case if the photograph is a mere fashion image. “At the end of the day, we are storytellers, we tell the stories of the people we focus on and, more importantly, we give them a voice to talk about themselves. Yes, the clothes are relevant, but what the situation conceals is even more so. A model can be very well-dressed, or even naked, but if you don’t go deeper, if you don’t get to her soul, where is the truth?” ask Luigi & Iango, photographers with a mission: to investigate and reveal reality, even in a fashion image. “Maybe we should defend ourselves more as fashion photographers, it’s not a stigma,” they say with a laugh.
Luigi Murenu (58, born on the Italian island of Sardinia) and Iango Henzi (44, from Switzerland) are known as Luigi & Iango on the Olympus of photography. Like some of their subjects, they do not need a surname to be recognized among the illustrious world of visual creation of our time. At this point, it is impossible, or nearly impossible, not to have noticed some of their images. The duo have created nearly three hundred covers for leading publications such as Vogue and countless portraits of the people who have defined celebrity culture in the last decade.
They met 12 years ago. One of them had a background in styling for shows and sessions, with a notable career as a hairdresser since the mid-1980s that had allowed him to work and learn with the greatest, including Richard Avedon. The other had abandoned a career in classical dance due to an injury that took him to the University of Applied Sciences and Arts in Zurich to pursue a career with the camera. Together, their highly trained and educated gazes have gained intensity and depth. “We want to open minds and expand horizons by showing that difference is beautiful, enabling dialogue in that way,” they say. “Photography can be an agent of change if it promotes a positive vision of the world.”
This idea gave rise to the project that the couple now presents in a double format, as a show and a book. Unveiled is on display at the Palazzo Reale in Milan until November 26, and a voluminous book (which also serves as the exhibition catalog) has been published in a luxury coffee table format. Neither one is a retrospective. “We prefer to talk about introspective research,” Luigi says. “We wanted to approach photography from another angle, looking for a perspective that would return its essence. Today, we see everything through a filter. The amount of images that saturates us digitally is overwhelming, and it goes at such a speed that no one seems interested in stopping and taking the time to observe. So we decided to stop to be able to capture everything that escapes our current accelerated gaze, and reveal it,” Iango says. “The title is very symbolic, it alludes to the discovery of moments, attitudes and details that allow us to glimpse the intimacy of the character who is being portrayed. We reveal that beauty that we are not aware of.”
If Unveiled is a non-stop flow of revelations, it is also because at least half of what was included in the exhibition and in the book was previously unseen material. Among the unpublished work is a photograph of Madonna in a pietà style that was left out of that extravaganza of Catholic aesthetics published in Vanity Fair last February (the artist, the first celebrity to be photographed by the duo in 2013, has written the prologue to the monograph, in addition to occupying its cover and an entire room in the exhibition). There is also a series dedicated to Chella Man, the actor, model, YouTuber and LGBTQI+ activist whose existential journey as a transgender, non-binary person with a physical disability (he is deaf) has captivated them. “We have incorporated social conversation into our work, but without politicizing it. It’s just about our vision. We listen to what is happening, and we understand it, but at the same time we do our own translation,” says Luigi. “We invite people to our table, we give everyone their place at it,” Iango continues. “It is also a very symbolic gesture, because it means that you can open your heart and mind and maintain a more human dialogue. Of course, the resulting image has to be suggestive, attractive, because a table set with care means that you care about the diners, that you want them to feel comfortable, special, safe, happy… Then life comes in and everything becomes mixed up and confusing. It is a reflection of our society.”
At Luigi & Iango’s table, diversity, inclusion and the perhaps not so obvious beauty of difference now have a preferential voice. “Everyone has the same opportunity to express themselves,” they concede. And not only that: in a gesture of generosity, they glorify those who are within range of their target. “To prepare a good dish, you not only have to use the best products, you must also know how to handle them. In that sense, communication is key in our line of work. Only in this way can we push these personalities to the limit of revealing something extraordinary,” they conclude. “In the end, it all comes down to love. Give and take. And show empathy. It is important to listen to the new generations as much as the old. It is important to talk about the lives that matter, but these are never in the conversation, only in the news. But for that you have to show courage, and put more heart into your art.”
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