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.