Photographic duo Domen & Van de Velde are no strangers to the fashion landscape. Known for their artistic direction and conceptual photographs, their works are featured in magazines internationally and they've gained recognition from some of the biggest names in the industry. We sat down with Giel Domen and Kenneth Van de Velde for an interview — to talk about photography and life.
We’re doing great. It’s been a very hectic situation due to COVID-19. But we used this to take a little bit of time off and rest so it was good to evolve and rebrand a couple of things. In view of the circumstances of the pandemic, we cannot complain. As soon as the lock down was lifted, our orders have started pouring in again. We worked quite a lot this summer, both commercially and on an editorial level. Beautiful things will be released soon.
Our vision about style and photography is definitely the same. The only thing that changed is the way we tackle things. We learned to make a balance between creating, working and pushing ourselves. And that taking a rest is important because it gives the energy to play and create again. This has certainly had a major impact on the industry. Our message in our images is always to inspire people and to convey a feeling and in times of the pandemic, this is only more appreciated. People want to be able to dream again and are more open than ever to be inspired and not to be remembered where the world should go on now.
We both strengthen each other. Mostly Giel does the art direction, so he's making the decisions about the colors and details. As for photography itself, we do it both. Sometimes there are angles where we don’t feel the image yet and then the other one takes over and finds the perfect one. Kenneth is mostly focusing on the technical details, like how the light will tell the story and how to bring the idea of Giel to life. And in retouching, Kenneth is the one who does the skin details and Giel composes the images and colors. We bring each other's story to life and that way we are growing stronger together.
Inspiration can come from movies, paintings or existing projects that give us a specific vibe. We are inspired by the new generation because young people have a lot of fantasy and no boundaries of the grown up life. They are constantly dreaming so we love to listen to what they have to say as well.
In general the COVID situation let us think differently. Life is difficult enough to survive sometimes and the pandemic has given us another dimension of thinking. We see life through a different glass. We recently started with two new team members, Annelien and Joeri. They are now our personal assistants, because we also learned that you can’t do everything by yourself. We made the decision to let people in and get involved in our work bubble. These kind of things have been very impactful in our lives lately.
We always wanted to create something under water. We are passionate about water itself. The flow, the movements, the dynamic feeling. Image wise, it is a very interesting texture. We waited for years to have the right people in our team because it’s kind of difficult and you need some experience. This is the result of creating a project where we worked on for months, years even.
Very important, to the point we're almost mentally focused on details. There also again comes the part where we strengthen each other. Kenneth has his vision and is focusing on the light, skin and every other small details where Giel is more focused on the colors and the contrast. But sometimes an image needs an atmosphere to tell the story, so then we play with the technical features to create this. Sometimes when we are editing a picture and overexposure or underexposure just works. But it has to be something we created and not something that is technically incorrect.
Yvonne was doing a masterclass course and she had a brief to do something around the concept of 'hide and seek'. So we had the idea to create different ways to let a model hide and we chose to do it with make up. One is just with tape, another one is with fabric, make up, or a mask. Every picture tells a way someone can hide.
It’s very important to create a group of people where you can really push each other to the next level. It has to be in balance because you need to develop your own connections and work with new people on a regular base. Building a network is very important but you also can’t forget where you came from. We have a lot of people who invested in us, people we've created unforgettable things with — and these kind of connections are very important.
To be open for others' opinion is very vulnerable but useful. When we are shooting, everyone has his opinion and we push ourselves to listen. And sometimes a wonderful result comes out. When you are open and you see and accept these kind of things, you push yourself to the next level.
A good photograph can be very different. Every photographer has his own unique style and we think a good photograph needs to tell a story, regardless in which style it is shot. You capture a moment and a scene that has to tell a story. The model and the things around all that makes the story come alive and that’s what gives power to a photograph. A good image is the perfect combination between model, styling, make-up, hair and how we bring everything together into one balanced whole.
In general, we decide what is gonna happen. But we are very open for remarks or ideas of our team. When we are creating our image, we know so well what we want and what’s the set about. Giel gives his vision and concept to the team, they get inspired and that’s the way we create together. Sometimes when we are not on the same level, we are really pushing our idea and concept forward.
Our style is very beauty and high-end like the classic iconic image but we also always want to give it an edge. The hair doesn’t need to be perfect all the time, make-up can be very edgy and raw. The light we use and the way we capture models is iconic, that is the way we want to portray. The idea for a series always comes out of something. Recently we shot a series for NUMERO and it came forward from a passion and interest about ghosts and the paranormal world.
I think we are getting more selective and tougher on ourselves year after year. We pay attention to even more details and ensure that we can work with the best people in the industry. In addition, the choice for a model and for which magazines and brands we work has also become very important. We've evolved a lot and our vision is getting sharper and sharper. Somebody once told me that if you want to reach the top, you only need to look to the people that you think are very high level. There's a lot of people who follow a lot of photographers for inspiration, but this is not good to develop your eye. We only had very iconic people we followed like Steven Meisel and Tim Walker. Every day we took a look at the eye of the masters and only saw high-end storytelling and that’s something that creates you as a maker. You develop this eye for things you never saw before. That’s the reason why we developed so hard and push ourselves day by day.
We have a lot of favorite series or pictures because every single one tells a story itself. If we really have to choose, it's a not-yet-released story about paranormal feelings and ghosts. The team was good, the energy, the feeling,... everything was at its place right from the beginning so this also gives great value to a series in a personal way. We love a beautiful beauty image where all the details of the skin and make-up are on-point and we also love our conceptual images that tell an atmosphere and story that you can keep looking at.
Giel: We love to travel in general because every place has his own magical touch. We love Spain, Italy, Dubai, New York — every place has its own inspiration.
Kenneth: I love to discover every city — from the culture to the food.
Giel: My grandparents play a big role in my life and I cherish these moments.
Kenneth: I often wander back to my middle school years because it was a positive time for me. Also sport competitions like gymnastics were a part of my life then.
Giel: Kenneth, since he came in my life as my partner, husband and creative team player. Vision and talents came together.
Giel: Every compliment is important but the one that got me the most was the personal email from Anna Wintour that she loved our work. That gets to the heart.
Kenneth: A big producer once said that Domen & Van de Velde belong to the largest in terms of finishing and quality.
Giel: Someone who can read minds.
Kenneth: A bird to see everything from the world from a different perspective. In order to disconnect from the bubble in which we live in now.
Giel: The Greatest Showman, because it’s the most inspirational happy vibes drama and color and styling which I really like. Same as Titanic, Moulin Rouge and Marie Antoinette.
Kenneth: No specific favorite movie but it’s the feeling at that moment when he watches a movie that makes it a good or bad one.
Giel: What I said earlier, only watch the big names, magazines and titles. And to always create with a very idealistic eye.
Kenneth: To delete all references that don’t apply to where you want to get to and only look and aim for the ones you are looking up to.
Giel: That I had cancer and received chemo and stuff and it felt so real that he was shocked in the morning.
Kenneth: I mostly dream about success in the future and where we want to be. The strangest one I ever had is when I was a kid, I dreamt that I was dying. I woke up, fell back asleep and the dream just started where it ended.
Giel: Never give up, stay who you are and never change yourself. Even if it is a big opportunity, try to find yourself in what you do and stay true to yourself. Be open for the advice of your team, good or bad. And invest all the time in time and free work and developing yourself.
Kenneth: You have to be selective with who you work with. Mirror yourself where you want to go and act accordingly. If you want to be successful, you got to have the right mindset and drive.