J and Richeille Formento met in 2005. Born in Honolulu in 1964, BJ came to San Francisco in 1982 to do a BFA in photography at the Academy of Arts. In 1999 he moved to New York and became assistant to some of the greatest photographers: Mary Ellen Mark, Richard Avedon, and Annie Leibovitz. In 2001, he started as a freelance photographer. Richeille was born in London in 1975 and after studies in art and design, she became an artistic director and designer for leading brands as well as independent labels. Married three months after they met, BJ and Richeille combined their talents and collaborated on commercial and artistic photography.
Due to the recent economic crisis the Formento duo decided to create a cinematic tragicomic representation of the times with "Circumstance", what could be described as a more personal response, a project that is both cynical and haunting, exploring issues of identity and the transient nature of people and places. The spirit of the project is abrupt and sudden, despite the central concept being carefully thought-through. In November 2009, the couple decided to pack up, collect their three Siamese cats, and cross North America in a retro eight-meter Silver Air Stream caravan, a stereotyped, post-something-made-in-America-road-trip; taking flight for a cross-continent voyage, not unlike the models in Richeille’s portraits. Thus began an epic cross-country adventure. With a minimum budget, the plan was simple: 5 months, 25 states and 50 women. Their goal was not only to take photographs but to play the fine line between commercialism and art with a greater social consciousness. The project operated on the fringes of reality and fiction in a singularly hybrid mix.
With Google Maps as a guide, they took to the road, focusing their attention on the terrain and meeting women to photograph the same day. Although the images are staged, the backdrop could not be more real. Through their work the artists paid homage to Hitchcock, but the influence of feminist photographer Cindy Sherman and the realist painter Edward Hopper can also be sensed. While the lens of BJ focused on the eyes of the (anti)-heroine, Richeille builds the integration and evolution of the changing persona within the landscape. Together they developed the hidden story of Hitchcockian damsels in distress, tracing the paths of the iconic Land of the Free, employing a masterly touch in the use of light; a cold and pale light linking loneliness to introspection, against the back-drop of a modern American landscape. Although the location and the model are specific to each shot, the tension delivered by their approach is constant.
Each image has an emotional tension that seems to go beyond the frame, like the psychotic cry and terror of a film noir. "We really wanted to photograph something that hit the public; we crossed the country during a recession period, when people had lost their homes, their families..."
What is a good picture for you ?
BJ: With our personal work, it is a moment where the lighting, the location, the styling, the make-up and the models expression all come together for that one fleeting instant. We don't crop the image nor do too much post production. I am totally old school and believe a good photograph should be made in-camera. For our commercial work a good picture, Greg Heisler once said, " is when you look at the subject at hand and the expectations of the client and give an appropriate response photographically."
R: One that raises many questions to the viewer.
How does your partnership work ?
BJ: Pretty seamlessly, we are a husband and wife team so it is a true partnership in every sense. We love to travel, we love to shoot. So we are constantly talking about places that interest us and how we can tie in a project that best represents us at that specific time. Richeille will start coming with ideas on the fashion, the color palette, the make-up and overall tone of the image. I do the photography and the lighting. But honestly we are so intertwined that our mobius* partnership has no beginning and no end.
R: They say two eyes are better than one; well we both bring our own to the work. BJ has his own vision and ideas, and I have mine, we share similarities in taste so the crossover works enough for both ideas to play harmoniously. The upside to this is there are always two sides playing in one image so you can read a lot into what the image might be saying, and from the two sides there comes a third element, sometimes out of nowhere just by the sheer crossover of two minds at work.
The ultimate bad taste, what is it for you?
BJ: Really good question! For me it is when an image is all about the technique. Sure it is part of photography and plays a major role. However it should not be at the core of our work.
R: People who claim they know and can generalise an image without knowing the artist.
How do your images come to life?
BJ: We have a message we want to say and will spend an hour or up to a whole day with our subject to notice and trip the shutter on this great photograph. Again when all the elements are right everyone feels it in their soul. We love to share our work on social networks and of course the final destination of a gallery exhibition or a book. The viewer plays such an integral part of making the work live on.
R: The life of an image is only as good as the viewer. We want images to conjure up feelings and thoughts in the person looking at them, to share and use their own feelings and experiences to give life to the image in their own way. An image can mean something very different to the next person and I love that.