Oil and Water

SEE Through the Drama

Lindsay Lohan Is Eating Your Brain

Role Play

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Reflections on Perspective

Fashion Cat

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Artistic Integrity


Never a Dull Day

Keeping it Tame

Change Clothes

My So-Called Fight

Help Me Help You

Oil and Water

Indrani gives perspective on why she and Markus are such a good pair, yet butt heads.

Welcome to my world of passionate image making. You may not know me yet, but you probably know my visions—images that began in my head (and the heads of Markus and GK) which now live on in yours. I’m talking about definitive photographs of Beyonce, Mariah Carey, Kate Winslet, Britney Spears, David Bowie, and many others that we have created.

For 20 years, I’ve analyzed, art directed, and embodied imaging arts and fashion, first as a model, then a cultural anthropologist at Princeton, now as a fashion photographer and digital artist. With my creative partner Markus and stylist GK Reid, I’ve photographed many of the most influential artists of our time, worked closely with superstars of marketing, public relations, digital image manipulation, make-up, hair and styling. And I’ve studied with spiritual teachers around the world for my own development and self-realization.

But it’s only recently that I’ve personally experienced the power of image, after hanging out with Lindsay Lohan. I made a few comments about Lindsay’s intelligence, beauty and potential, and my hope to be a positive influence in her life. Suddenly I was the planet’s third-most Googled person, with reports everywhere that we’re settling down together after a year-long relationship! It didn’t help that Markus, usually protective of our celebrities, couldn’t contain his juicy soundbites about a racy shoot we did together. My actual words and Lindsay’s were ignored in favor of our photos and the fantasies people prefer to project.

Now to set the record straight, I don’t see myself as a cougar, I’m more a tiger lover. No, not that Tiger! My spirit animal is the tiger—My goddess rides one, it was my college mascot, and I’ve trekked for weeks through Indian jungles to photograph one. Like most artists with whom I have worked, I’ve had to overcome many challenges, and I still face many more. I struggle with shyness, though I’m a tiger when it comes to my loved ones and my art. It may seem my greatest struggle is with my partner, Markus, my best friend, and sometimes my nemesis. We are complete opposites. Markus was raised as a wealthy Swiss classical musician, with technical precision, luxury, health, and safety his chief concerns. I grew up in a ruined palace, the daughter of an aristocratic Indian father and English country maiden, surrounded by Calcutta’s poverty and a wealth of spirituality and cultural complexity. Markus and I are like night and day, oil and water, fire and ice. Yet as in alchemy, if you find a way to combine polar opposites, their fusion can create a most powerful bond (or a great explosion).
Our glue is our love: love for our subjects, love for our art, and love for each other. We’re known for being easy to work with, because we care passionately about our clients’ needs, and we open up our creative process in discussions with all the team. Unlike other photographers who exclude or yell at clients, we direct our frustrations at each other. We argue only with each other, usually when clients aren’t around, once or twice a day, not every few minutes as it seems from the editing. We collaborate by expressing our ideas freely as forcefully as we feel them, building upon each other’s and comparing their emotional importance to our collective.
For example, in last week’s episode, Eve was so lovely and so jet-lagged. Markus asked GK and I to remove a guy who was photographing without permission, so he could avoid confrontation and keep shooting. GK and I both agreed he shouldn’t be there, but to avoid upsetting Eve, we argued with Markus to let it go. I ask Markus to apologize to Eve, not because he’s wrong, but because we need to do whatever it takes to get the shot. Sometimes putting aside our personal feelings to make your subject feel good, is an essential part of our art.

Normally I wouldn’t care about room size, but my assistant and agent teased me about Markus’ triple suite, while I had three computers and assistants squeezed against my bed. I’d gladly cut corners to save money, but it doesn’t make sense when our client’s providing accommodations. I didn’t ask Markus to move, just to agree to insist on our equal treatment in the future. It was his refusal to recognize the inequity and his denial of responsibility which brought up tears and years of unresolved issues. I wish GK was there! Supermodel Lydia Hearst’s blog takes Markus’ side and blames Jorge as agents should take care of these things. But our super-agent has to deal with much more important things like negotiating big contracts and celebrities’ releases for filming! The good thing is, each time we talk we learn something, and we haven’t had that problem again.

At Ennis House, what the camera missed were my comments to the model before she went on the ledge: “Don’t do anything you don’t feel comfortable with. Kai wants this shot, it will be beautiful, but its totally up to you. Whatever we do we’ve gotta do it fast cause the sun’s about to go.” That’s why I didn’t understand her hesitation. Either do the shot, or don’t, and let us move on to something else. The wait was agonizing for everyone. But I was glad to see her excitement after she overcame her fears. She wants to go skydiving now!

There’s always something to learn from every experience, and I can never forget how lucky I am to be creating art with people I love.

Lindsay Lohan Is Eating Your Brain

Indrani explains the many layers of celebrity through the example of Lindsay Lohan.

Lindsay Lohan is eating your brain. You think you know her. Everyone thinks they know what she is. A woman-child, an innocent, a victim, a genius, a deviant? Do you know as much about yourself? We’re all sure we know what Lindsay needs. But no one can agree. Aren’t these projections of what we need ourselves? Loving parents, a good lawyer, tough love, a wake-up call. Why do our great pundits devote time to Lindsay’s analysis—so eager to help her or to bask in her glow? What is Lindsay Lohan? What is a star? What am I? What’s real? What’s an ideal?

As an image creator, I am drawn to these issues of ideals and objectification, artifice and authenticity, fantasy and reality, light and shadows, smoke and mirrors—these are the tools of my art. I enjoy finding great thinkers throughout history inspired by these same elements, which they use to represent their ideas. Philosophers’ chief concerns appear to be that things are not as they appear. Our shoots remind me of Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave”, where the light represents truth, and subjects cast shadows that are representations, forms or ideas. He exhorts us to break the chains of illusions we perceive as the material world, and gaze instead at the transcendent reality in the light of truth, then set others free. Plato probably wasn’t thinking of reality TV, but it may be the brightest light we’ve got right now.

Descartes, Kant, and Marx were all concerned with how to overcome the duality, with many, like Schopenhauer, seeing art as a means to spiritual freedom. Nietzsche views philosophy, morals and ideals themselves as “idols”; reality as a continuous state of transformation through the “will to life” in the material world; and art as the only justification for life. Life takes on meaning only as it is expressed in art.

We make art from life, through our images, and life from art, as iconic images attach their aura to their subjects’ lives. We’re completing the circle by filming the process, to recontextualize the missing meaning. The million-dollar question is no longer what is real, but how to make one person’s reality become the fantasy of millions around the globe?

Lindsay and all the stars whose income is derived from revealing their private lives, are to me performance artists—weaving a web of contradiction and trapping people in subverted expectations of normalcy. The public’s addiction grows with each contradiction and unexpected act, just as their addiction grows to the public’s attention. In the end, though they are subject to the same moral laws as the rest of us, they must be viewed as objects of art living in the public imagination.

Postmodernists from Benjamin to Baudrillard proclaim the “murder of the real by the image”. Is that what Lindsay--one of the most photographed people on the planet-- is going through? I hope our Post-postmodern approach can give new life to the imaging process by fusing the viewer with the viewed. As an ex-model myself, I know how existentially upsetting it can be to be flattened and objectified all the time. That’s why in our photo shoots, we put our subjects’ desires first and enhance what is normally one photographer’s perspective with dynamic discussions to include our subject as well as an array of creative collaborators in our decision-making. The big question for us is not, “How could Lindsay be so late?” but, “How can we create an image that will truly represent her, both how we see her, and how she wants to see herself?”

In our images Lindsay both frames herself and uses a beam as a stripper pole to transform a ravaged space into the psychadelic site of a grand new construction. In the process, we’ve been criticized from all sides, by Lindsay’s fans and enemies alike, though our client got great press. Did we set Lindsay up to fail as she claims in a Twitter war? Watch the episode, it's clear we did not. But perhaps society has. Are we enablers? Fans blame us for being kind when she came 11 hours late. Should we have tortured her as Tyra would and sent her home in tears, or pulled out her extensions as a Jersey Housewife or prison warden might? Reminding us how far reality shows are from real life, such dramas might increase ratings, but would not be true to us, our business, or our art. Are we exploiters? Lindsay’s fans blame us for filming her lateness. But Lindsay knew she would be filmed, and chose to represent herself this way, gaining huge publicity for her 6126 brand. That’s why she is so loved: Lindsay appears normal, accessible, the girl next door, yet she’s an artist living free, thumbing her nose at society’s rules, and generally getting away with it.

In our culture, we crave heroes to follow. Celebrities become representations of ideas, vessels on which we all project our own fantasies and needs. My image-making work is devoted to bringing out those qualities that make individuals into icons. Whether our clients are psychologically or organizationally equipped to handle the consequences of the stardom their images achieve has been our concern. Our job is to inspire.

The seeming irony of my work is that it is directly responsible for supporting these celebrity cults, while my attempt to document the process and make it transparent could undercut them. But inevitably the process only adds additional layers of interpretation and interest. We called our show Double Exposure, because what we create is an image that reveals these two layers of meaning superimposed.

As artists, working in a world where consumerism is key, we use all the mediums we can, to reach the widest audience with our images: through ad campaigns, fashion magazines, and now TV. The stakes are very high and the challenges are great, yet our passion overcomes practical limitations.

We seek to create art, through fashion and advertising photography. Clients may not want art, they may just want something that sells. But I believe in using every opportunity to the fullest to maximize our creative process, to explore and find ways to convey meaning and depth and beauty with everything I do. That's part of the self-tortured angst I thrust on Markus every day, and the cause of much of our friction. I always want to push things further, to turn ideas or objects upside down, to explore, stretch, communicate, and create something with meaning and timelessness and the sublime, in a world where surface and speed is all that counts.

If you want to know Lindsay better, watch Double Exposure again carefully. If you want to use the secrets of the stars to be important to your target audience and achieve your highest goals, join my explorations in personal alchemy and look for my book Image Craft at Harper One, later this year.