I was so glad to be able to bring you all to my home in India, and especially to my school, SEEschool. It’s the most magical place I’ve been. Though they have so little, they are the happiest children you could meet, grateful for every kindness, thrilled to be able to learn. A handshake sends them into fits of giggles, a pencil is a treasured possession. They’re learning not only how to improve their own lives, but skills to help uplift their entire community, and many have brought literacy to their less fortunate siblings who are still working in fields and factories.
I was fortunate to grow up in a palace, and although I had friends who were street kids, I couldn’t conceive of their poverty. Moving to the West, my family lost everything, and for a few years we struggled to survive. When at 18 I returned to trek around India, I was devastated to see all the suffering. I saved up my earnings and founded the school in order to empower lives. My aged father gave up his comfortable retirement in Canada to help our cause. He lived without electricity or running water and went door-to-door asking parents to give at least one of their kids a chance, while hoping to find a group of teachers to share our vision.
Little did we realize that the school would change our lives as much as the lives of those whom we helped. I went from a lonely little model drifting aimlessly around the world to an artist charged with purpose, having hundreds of people depending upon me to help provide them with a future. Knowing how hard they all work to improve their world keeps me working 20-hour days and gives me the courage to overcome my shyness, to fight for what I believe in. Through his work with the children, my father regained his youthfulness and eventually married his best friend, the headmistress. The success of both the school and my art gives me so much satisfaction, which helps me handle the most difficult situations at work with ease. I am so thankful to be able to have love as the prime motivator in all I do. The school is my greatest joy, my secret life source, the peace of paradise that I am fortunate to carry with me everywhere I go. Empowering others can be your source of fulfillment too. Join us at www.SEEschool.org.
I always dreamed of bringing Markus to India, and now GK, for the most important shoot of our lives: to photograph the children at the school for a fundraising campaign and to artistically explore the ruins of my home. I believed these experiences would help us all to grow together. But it seemed instead this trip would tear us apart!
I’d planned for us to rest, feast, meditate, explore, and shoot at sunrise and sunset, when it’s cool enough to venture out and the light is magical. But Markus had a breakdown, overwhelmed with fear for his life and anger at me for endangering us and making him see poverty and suffering that he’d never imagined. He refused to see the beauty, refused to eat, criticized what I held most dear, and demanded to leave as soon as possible. He insisted “its like a war zone,” and he succeeded in making it feel that way by pushing us to shoot in the midday sun, after 3 days’ travel without sleep, Markus without food, without assistants, and with so much angst between us.
I’ve experienced all kinds of stress in front of the camera, but this was ridiculous. Shooting a self-portrait for a major fashion campaign in hideously harsh high noon sun, broiling in a plastic raincoat, without assistants, unable to see the results, while my photo partner freaked out about imaginary bugs, unaware of the critters that could really kill. Doing my own makeup and feeling it dripping off, while fabulous hairstylist Ward had no electricity for his tools or fans, just his livingproof products and a palm leaf fan to save the hair day. All while flouting my traditional family’s customs of modesty, as they worriedly watched us fight. It was too much for me! But GK understood us all, and brought us back to our senses, even staying up all night to calm Markus’ fears. When I overcame my self-righteous anger and regained compassion for Markus’ pain, Markus found his strength too, from having survived. We are proud that even in our toughest situation, our client Thuy was thrilled with the images, continuing our unbroken record of successful shoots.
The children at SEEschool brought us all closer than ever, inspiring us with the miracle of their happiness and learning in spite of their difficult lives. The trip helped us all to put our troubles in perspective and realize how fortunate we all are to be blessed with the ability to easily and dramatically improve the lives of these beautiful people. It helped us all to grow, to work harder towards overcoming ego, anger, and the fear that hampers our work, and to increase our understanding of each other as individuals and as artists.
We’re learning to balance our passion for our photography with the other things that are important, like financial security, communicating calmly, and broadening our inspirations. Visiting GK backstage at the fashion shows was a turning point for us, since we opened ourselves up as a team to being creatively inspired by the fashion process and trusting in our ability to do successful shoots without torturing ourselves. Fashion Week’s Fern Mallis, Cosmo’s editor-in-chief Kate White, and fashion director Michelle McCool are great role models, elegantly articulating their objectives, cool with artistic eccentricities, and encouraging sexy fun images. Beautiful Anna Lynne McCord was provocative in pictures, and super-sweet in person, a delightful combination.
I was excited to combine my passions in our first solo exhibition, ICONS, which supports our school, and to present our work the way I envisaged it for 16 years, as enormous gold framed images we printed with the masters at Hance Partners. Our openings in LA and NY were a big success, with over 2500 fashionistas and art lovers coming out to celebrate our work. Particularly touching were visits by Lindsay Lohan and Perez Hilton, arch enemies who came together to support us as they have for years. Other fab guests were Andy Cohen, supermodel Lydia Hearst, Benny Medina, Aubrey O’Day, Kelly Cutrone, Housewives Ramona Singer, Alex McCord, Simon Van Kempen, Caroline Manzo, ANTM’s Nole Marin, superchef Rocco DiSpirito, star hair stylist Oscar Blandi, and Project Runway’s Malan Breton and Fern Mallis, our super agent Jorge Perez of Opus, and sponsors Covergirl, Jaguar, Runway Mag, Kipton Art, and many others. Also in attendance was Lady Gaga's famed Hello Kitty dress by GK Reid, which was spoofed on Glee.
Our artist’s statement: As a multi-media duo with opposing viewpoints, our work is a fusion of a multiplicity of perspectives. We come together through love, conflict, negotiation, and respect, between each other and our subjects. We collaborate closely with those we photograph, to understand them and be inspired by their reality, their fantasies and artistry. We empower them to move freely through our multiple exposures, which we montage for their truest expression, movement and being.
ICONS is a collection of the most engaging celebrities of our times, signature moments of pop culture history, seared into the popular imagination, in all their glamorous, glossy, dynamic perfection. Here are the gods and goddesses of our new world order, larger than life, the way we all love to see them. In our image-making, we seek to reveal those qualities which make these individuals extraordinary: their personality, their aura, beauty, and power.
In a world where authenticity is an autograph and reality a genre of TV, our images provide society a mirror to reflect upon its ideals and devotions. With this exhibition we seek to encourage viewers to question, what makes these individuals so beloved? What do they represent for each of us, what roles have we asked them to play that they inspire such passions in us? Why do we as a society raise them up to be larger than life, blur the lines between fantasy and reality, admiration and obsessive cult behavior, appoint them as deities for public consumption, then rip them apart if they reveal human flaws? We hope that ICONS will inspire its viewers to reflect upon the guiding light of celebrity and the long shadows cast.
Taking these ideas further, during the filming of the series I wrote Image Craft, soon to be published by Harper One. To see more images from our exhibition, go to www.mkibook.com.