With visceral, enchanting set-design and imagery that channels the intangible - rendering visible unseen forces that define our world - its no wonder that London based design duo Lightning and Kinglyface (aka Anna Fulmine and Victoria Shahrokh) have recently celebrated their tenth anniversary. And ten years is no mean feat in today’s ever-changing creative environment, where constantly evolving technologies require designers to become equally adaptable to stay in the game. With a comprehensive client list of international names, it seems Fulmine and Shahrokh’s captivating creations, which bridge that precarious chasm between creative and commercial - somehow marrying the two with splendid outcomes - have given them the edge.
Concurrent to success in the commercial sphere, the duo have made continual efforts to keep their personal projects active, which thanks to a solid core of gifted friends, has resulted in an impressive array of collaborations with a range creative practitioners. One such is photographer Thomas Brown who they struck up a friendship with when assisting together eight years ago, since then the trio have worked on a number of combined projects, developing a stunning catalogue of work. This December sees the launch of the latest installment in the Thomas Brown/Lightning and Kinglyface series, so we thought it an opportune moment for a chat about their work and the forthcoming project.
There’s a huge scientific influence in your work, is science something that you’ve both always been intrigued by?
Anna Fulmine: It’s our way of thinking about the world, even when we first started university we were quite scientific in our approach so we it must be the thing that has bonded us in a way. And as creatives we’ve never felt that science has been that accessible to us, because it’s quite a closed world so we just try and take it and twist it and make it visual. So people who see our work can enjoy it as well, because doing experiments that look beautiful just brings it into our world.
Victoria Shahrokh: Because there are so many exciting visual things that are happening in science.
AF: And we now know scientific and creative minds are wired different so why not use those differences to create something completely unique that bridges the two.
VS: It’s actually through listening to a RadioLab podcast that we stumbled upon the basic for a pitch for one of our projects, and the fact that this whole idea has emerged from a podcast, from someone so far away talking about cells and protein shells is just amazing.
How do you split your time between personal and commercial projects, how much of a crossover is there between the two?
VS: I think you have to be really disciplined with personal projects, as it’s easy to let them slip when commercial work comes in. But actually the busier we are with commercial work the more creative we feel as you’re working so much and your adrenaline’s going and you get all these new ideas. What’s great it that over time it’s our personal work that we’ve become known for and are now getting employed to do for commercial reasons. So the two are becoming more closely linked now than ever, which is the dream!
AF: We also try to divide projects between us so we don’t get too overloaded and can stay in control of both personal and creative work, that’s where working in a duo is really useful.
What’s the most exciting, and conversely the most difficult thing about being in a partnership?
AF: Well when I was assisting I always made it my goal to instinctively know what the person I was working with needed, even before they knew, and I think the exciting thing about working together is we do naturally that for each other.
VS: And we know each other tastes, so if we’re on a job we don’t even need to say anything to know if we’re both happy with how everything looks.
AF: Most mornings when we get to the studio, we spend the first hour or so just ‘debriefing’ – as we like to call it - on the night before, or the weekend or just catching up, because we need to make sure we’re always on the same page. Because if either of us has an issue we have to sort it out straight away and not bring it with us to a job, if you’re on set and people can feel tension it’s the worst thing ever.
VS: Yeah, because we work very closely together and socialise together too.
AF: We’re basically married!
VS: But I think it’s really important that we work and socialise together, if it was just a working relationship it would become quite robotic, it’s great to occasionally let our hair down together and just get drunk and have fun!
Your work has a very raw and sensual feel to it, what reactions do you hope to excite in a viewer?
VS: I think what we always try and do is push materials to their limits and to extract something from them that a viewer really wouldn’t expect.
AF: Yeah, and we like to straddle worlds in different ways to sort of abstract the viewer and also striking up an emotion, disgust or intrigue.
VS: We want the viewer to want to look at our work for a while, to be drawn into it.
AF: A lot of our work might seem quite considered but most of it is just happy accidents, we’ll get to the set and say “we’ve got this, this and this, lets just chuck them in front of the camera and see what happens”, and from there comes and idea and the journey begins.
Where do you find inspiration for your work?
VS: We try not to use websites too much because you lose a lot of the tangibility of materials. A lot of our material inspiration is incidental, like noticing the cracks between tiles or the hooks holding something in a shop. Being out and immersed in environments gives you such a sensory overload that you’d never get from looking on Pinterest.
AF: Sitting in a studio frustrates us; we like to be out doing things and seeing things.
VS: Even when you’re busy and are burrowed away in the studio with projects, you to need to make time to go out and experience things for ideas to happen. And also for reading, because reading engages such a different part of your brain and it’s really important.
VS: I think if you’ve got a creative mind, you have to feed it, and reading philosophy can make sense of the work you’re making and why you’re making it.
AF: And why we’re even here! We meet up with a lot of photographers and artists for weekly about life and what it all means!
What’s the story behind your recent project with Thomas Brown?
VS: They’re all quite stimulating set ups and when we shoot we realize about ten other variants we could shoot, so whenever we work together things progress really quickly.
AF: We recently looked back at all the work we’ve made with Tom and noticed all the projects tie in nicely as a series so they don’t feel like separate projects, but like instalments of something bigger.
VS: It’s really interesting working with him because he really conceptualizes stuff.
AF: And pushes us in such different ways
VS: And that’s so exciting, having a third mind completely changes things.
AF: The project we’re launching this month is quite scientific, it’s loosely based on Newton’s third law, which is that a reaction is always matched with an action, so we’re trying to visualize all these invisible actions. So far we’ve done four stages and it’s grown in size each time, I think the next stage is to take it outside, we’d love to do that.
VS: The next stage will really depend on the feedback from this exhibition, feedback is so important to us for developing ideas.
What’s in the pipeline for you in 2016?
AF: Well we’ve been talking to Matter about a possible collaboration and exhibition, it’s all very tentative at the moment but we’ve got further meetings coming up.
VS: And we’ve also been doing quite a lot of exploration into using microscopic imagery and polarizing lenses so it really distorts colours, so it’s all very sensory. We’ve only had one meeting so things are all very loose, but we’ll see what happens!
THOMAS BROWN INTERVIEW
Could you tell us a bit about your creative process, what stages do you go through to creative a 'finished' image?
A concept or an area of exploration will always come first; this can often be quite personal or subjective so it then becomes a journey of how to communicate that idea visually. I find lots of references and look back at other experiments or work and find links or avenues that could be taken further. We spend lots of time in the studio trying ideas then take time to assess the outcome go back to improve and develop them further. I love the collaborative process as it brings together small snippets of ideas and makes them into something spectacular.
What was it about Anna and Victoria’s work that initially attracted your attention?
I’ve known Anna and Vics for years, we all started out at about the same time and have always collaborated on work, so we’ve grown together. We share a sense of adventure and experimentation, we don’t care if the project fails, and somehow it never does; we always come away with something really exciting and fresh.
What parallels – if any – do you draw between your working processes and style and that of Lightning and Kinglyface?
The conceptualising stage is so important to us, it’s easy to have wild ideas but actually producing something coherent is the tricky part. This doesn’t stop us going of on tangents, but a strong overarching theme or concept helps you make the right choices and edits when something brilliant and unexpected happens.
What are your favourite material and/or processes to work with?
I love all materials equally, the thing that draws me in is texture and finish, you can photograph the most overlooked or industrial material and turn it into something unexpected and beautiful, that for me is the magic.