The Magic Wand of Mert and Marcus for Lancôme
Select, paint, blur, erase. Mert and Marcus take their transformative powers behind the camera into a makeup collection with Lancôme.
Within the thick, glossy pages of magazines and larger than life billboards, a superhero emerges from a lucid dream lensed by Mert Alas and Marcus Piggot. A feast for the eyes, their muses swim in pools of saturated colors with a controlled gaze that hypnotize. Women want to be her. Men want to conquer her. Artistic geniuses behind these images, Mert and Marcus push their magic touch beyond the click of the camera and into a makeup collection with Lancôme. V spoke with Mert Alas, the first half of Mert and Marcus – to talk about character development, the parallels of a photographer and a makeup artist, as well as the future of beauty and photography.
V MAGAZINE As partners, how do you share a vision on set and how do you share a camera?
MERT ALAS First of all, we set up for some concept. We don’t go blindly to a shoot. We have an idea and when we go to the studio, we sort of start shooting. Whether it’s him (Marcus Piggott) first or me, it’s kind of like we’re looking at other angles. It’s hard to describe. We swap cameras. Sometimes he’s shooting, sometimes I’m shooting. Sometimes I’m screaming at him, saying, “Hey, look at this angle! Give me the camera!” Sometimes it’s him. It’s a very fluid way of grabbing the camera from each other’s hands.
V It’s a dance only the two of you know.
MA Yes. I like that. A dance only we know.
V What role does makeup have on your subjects?
MA As a child, I would watch my mother get herself prepared for hours in front of the mirror. To a point where she would put one eye different than the other with makeup. She would close one eye and test the other eye. Talk to the mirror and see which eye reacts better, then take it all off and do it again. I knew the strength of making your face can transform with makeup. Add colors, hide emotions… Makeup for me. It’s not just paint. I had it in my DNA when I started photography. I started approaching characters, my subjects the same way. Creating a character. If I was that character, what would I wear? What would my lip be? What would my nails look like? Would I have extensions on my lashes? Would I have this lip? All these natural, unplanned thoughts create our point of view on women and the position of makeup in those characters. You want to enhance something, sometimes you want to hide something, reshape something that you can do with a brush or paint. So, it’s like a combination of all.
V It’s another medium.
MA It’s another medium, another art-form. Anything that has colors, I like to play with. I like to paint in my studio. I paint faces. I paint digitally. I like playing with color and paint.
V Who does a really good job transforming into a character in front of your lens?
MA Kate (Moss) really plays a great character. We always try to add that knowledge to our subject. For example, if we’re doing a project with Kate, We would say, “Kate, that’s who you are today. You’re this girl, in this place, you met that person. You’re sad, you’re happy, you’re lost, you’re lovely.” She transforms into that character really really well. To the point where you get goosebumps, and you say, “Wow.” But so does Naomi (Campbell), so does Madonna, so does Maria (Carla Boscono), so does Guinevere (van Seenus), so does Saskia (de Brauw). All of our muses have that sort of quality to transport. In a way, we work with people we tend to connect very well with. We love that realistic transformation. That’s everything, really.
V When I played with the Transforming Liquid Eyeshadow, I loved the way the glitter hides and reveals itself in the formula. It’s as if it’s…
MA Photoshop! It was so interesting… When Marcus and I had a discussion on “How are we going to do this so it’s different than others and the stuff that we’ve seen?” Red lipsticks are red lipsticks after all. We had to have a point of view. So why don’t we use our photography tricks to add into the cosmetic product? For example, if you have a glittery eye in the picture, and if it’s not so glittery, you can enhance it. Most of the products, like the Transforming Liquid Eyeshadow, were a product of this concept. A glitter eye, and when you rub it more, it becomes more glittery. The Flaming Lips Kit with dark edges was about when I retouch the girl’s lips, I darken the corners for a plump look in the center. Why don’t we do this with lipstick?
V What is the future of beauty?
MA Everyone is a makeup artist. Including me. I think that it’s going to be about purity. How can we create makeup without makeup? You’ll find out when my makeup comes out. I’m kidding, I’m kidding. It’s like fashion. Some things come and go very quickly. A flavor of the moment. It can last for a season, it can last for five seasons, it can last for five years, but it will change. Everything changes in fashion. No one stays the same. We all change. Even if we don’t want to, because we get older. Our shape changes, our mind changes. We all live under a title called “change” in fashion.
V Can beauty be out of fashion?
MA Certain things never go out of fashion. You’ll always have a red lip or a mascara. You’re always going to have a beautiful smoky eye and a good foundation. Everything changes so fast in makeup. When one thing comes out, millions copy the day after because It’s much more approachable and affordable than to mimic high fashion. With makeup, you can love red lipstick and be high, high, high fashion. The spectrum of makeup is very wide and I don’t think it’s going out of fashion anytime soon. We have been seeing and using and hearing a lot of beauty products and a lot of cosmetic brands. A lot of times, I go to Sephora and find that there are three more new brands. But is it gonna change to another level? I don’t know. The better quality and the brand authority who has the expertise will be the ones who will be staying. That’s the main reason why we’re doing it with Lancôme. Because we believe we are that brand.
V Future of photography?
MA Photography hasn’t really changed much for a long time. Photography as in we take an image and distill it. We frame that moment of time. I feel like that’s not going to change. The tools change. Sometimes you can use a pinhole camera and then we have a 5×4 camera and then we show 10×8 films and then we had processing films. And we were retouching images with real paint on the prints in the 90’s and then somehow, digital came along. Now, we’re playing with that and let’s see what comes along and we’ll move onto that. Photography is… has it changed? I think what has changed is society. Society’s point of view on photography. Suddenly we have hundreds of new photographers, thousands of new photographers that are voicing themselves through social media, Instagram and so on – which I find extremely incredible and amusing. Because in my time, we didn’t have such things. Young people didn’t have such a personal voice. We had to go along with things. Tag along with people. Tag along with magazines. Find our way, find our voice. Not just our ways with a camera but with our social skills and so on. Now, you can actually go on Instagram, take a good picture and get noticed. And I think that that’s fantastic. So I see a lot of pictures and photographers, and I say, “Damn. This is good.”
V It seems how we value imagery has changed.
MA The future of photography is already here and we’re already living it. Future of photography has become a norm in our society. The value makes it out of norm. Would I put 200 people from Instagram and put them in a gallery? No. But would I choose one? Yes. The time will come and we will evaluate. Where does this end? How do we value all this? How do I value Richard Avedon vs. a guy from Instagram? Society will do that. That’s a natural thing. We cannot fight for that and say, “This is the right thing” The audience will always find its class and decisions will be made by them. “You know what? This is a new form of photography.” I want to now look at pictures on paper and not on a telephone. I don’t know. I don’t know. Right now, what is the future of photography? We’re sort of part of it.
V It feels very dizzy because there’s so much going on, constant change and so many people who like to identify as photographers or explore photography that are judged differently.
MA The moment you have a microphone and you can sing, you’re a singer. The moment you have a camera and can take pictures, you have an audience, you’re a photographer. I don’t have a problem with calling people a photographer. My only issue here is that I don’t want to forget the greatness of craft. The greatness of the history of photography. The greatness of art. The knowledge. Expertise. All these people that we all admire, they were there for a reason. Are we calling Man Ray and a guy from Instagram a photographer? Yes we are. Which is the nature of the society. But I think it’s now our choice and our decision of “Where do I want to take this?” Do I want to take this to an exhibition and maybe take them out of the phone and print them and see if I still like them? Are the walls out of the question? I like both. That’s why I’m active on Instagram. I think it’s fun. It’s not really trying to create a hierarchy. Everyone’s a gallery, everyone’s a photographer. There’s something quite cool about that. There’s something quite punk about that. At the same time, I don’t want to lose the love and respect we have for true art and photography. I’m still in a dilemma because I still want to look at a wall, look at a picture and go to the left and go to the right. I don’t want to just look at a phone.