Alina 2 (Connecticut, USA), Series: Nostalgia, 2021
Some visual art can be hard to untangle. So it comes as a shock when confronted with images that look like someone read your mind. Husband and wife duo, Formento & Formento have a knack for reaching into the dark and vulnerable spaces where we wrestle with ourselves and bringing our struggles out into the light.
On the surface, their exotic photographs are as meticulously produced as they are provocative, and at first feel far removed from our everyday selves. But beyond the intimate scenes are tones that touch all of us: of love and loss, lust and longing. These are the things we don’t talk about because they are too painful, too shameful, too honest. Now, we need not say anything. We just need to look, feel and forgive ourselves. Here, we chat to the artistic team BJ and Richeille Formento about their process.
Q: How did your work process start together?
BJ: Richeille hired me to shoot a few assignments for her in Florida in 2005. We had great chemistry and really connected. We sang, we danced and watched the moonrise over Miami. To love photography is one thing. To fall in love while creating photographs is a whole other thing. I believe beauty is what happens when people who care about each other make things together.
Richeille: We met 17 years ago and the creative spirit constantly flows through us. BJ does most of the photography and lighting and I concentrate on styling, hair and make-up and art direction. From working in the commercial world, we’re able to bring the glamour of hair and make-up, and the timelessness of styling to our personal work with precision.
Q: It must take a lot of trust to share the ideas that culminate in these images – how has this developed?
BJ ~ In some ways, when an artist is working, that is all there is. I like to say Richeille is in the detail and I’m in the atmosphere.
Richeille ~ Luckily we love the same things, and we respect each other’s vision and want each other to succeed. Our positions on shoots then become second nature. We wear the necessary hats and never see it as stepping on each other’s toes, because we have the same goal.
Q: How do you come up with the concept for each image?
BJ ~ Inspiration is always trying to send me messages in every form it can - through dreams, music, coincidences, deja vu, surprising waves of attraction and reaction. Fortunately, I have Richeille by my side every day, helping me visualise ideas, giving permission, and trusting that each of us is a creative vessel.
Richeille ~ We travel to places that interest us and visually explore themes that fascinate us within that culture or place. We leave our comfort zone to fully experience things that were once just an idea. So the journey and process of our art is just as important as the image we end up making.
Saboteur 24 (Berlin, Germany), Series: Spies, Lies and Saboteurs, 2018
Q: What would you say is your secret sauce?
Richeille ~ Because we work as a couple, we bring a female and male perspective, sometimes crossing over as a third eye. I feel it is this combination along with our personal backgrounds that make for our unique vision.
Birdy 1 (Bangkok, Thailand), Series: Second Kind of Woman, 2016
Q: Who are you speaking to through your images?
BJ ~ I believe you end up crushing your creativity when you try to create work for someone else. Whereas, you can live a long life, making and doing really cool things. You may or may not earn a living from them, but you realise that is not the point. At the end of your days, you can thank creativity for having blessed you with a charmed, interesting and passionate existence.
Richeille ~ I think the common denominator in our audience is that they are searching for meanings or connections to feelings they may not understand, inquisitive people who want to feel something. Whether that is a good feeling or not, it is better than looking and not feeling anything at all.
Hysteria 67 (Paris, France), Series: Hysteria, 2018
Q: Some of the images feel like the viewer is being spoken to directly, while others seem to place the viewer in the position of observer. Could you share about this?
BJ ~ Very interesting observation. Since we are a duo, perhaps it’s the female / male gaze. Richeille and I always strive for an honest connection between us and the model. And under the right context and circumstance, we get to create work that is sensual as opposed to sexual, and collaborative as opposed to voyeuristic.
Richeille ~ There’s no central message. We don’t create images to make statements about ourselves necessarily. Our images are a platform for discussion on a range of subjects. It depends what is triggered in the viewer. We like our work to be a point of connection amongst a group of people to open dialogue and exchange ideas.
Hysteria 8 (Budapest, Hungary), Series: Hysteria, 2019
Q: Do you bring outside issues in to influence your work, or do you close the door on the world in order to create other worlds?
BJ ~ The world is a strange and wonderful place and amazement awaits us around every corner. This is one of the reasons we love living in New York. I feel that what we should get from art is a sense of wonder, of something beyond ourselves, that celebrates our 'being' here.
Richeille ~ I think there is a lot of internal searching that we do as individuals. It’s not possible to ignore current themes and say things don’t affect you from day to day. I also think that the world is an eternal return and that history continues to repeat itself. So we relive many feelings and experiences over and over. And we look inside ourselves behind closed doors to express to others how we feel.
Q: What is it about female subjects that you’re drawn to?
BJ ~ The female figure, for me, is limitless and will forever be a mystery. The strongest and most wonderful things in the world are the things which no one can see. And through photography I am constantly trying to explore that.
Richeille ~ Women represent female beauty, softness and strength. Through their eyes and stories they can show both loss and new beginnings.
Son Subin VII (Paris, France), Series: Japan Diaries, 2015
Q: Often the women in your photographs are in vulnerable positions or private moments. What can we learn from these candid and sensual situations?
BJ ~ We are all vulnerable, and in this digital age it can feel like we’re being watched, or persistently being judged. I hope to stage our women as fearless and free, to be tender and fierce, sensual not sexual, and above all to always be open to stir new feelings every time you look at our images.
Richeille ~ As a woman I try to explore the themes women encounter every day, working through my own personal thoughts and fears, as well as what visually fascinates me as a woman. Ultimately our art is our journey to self-discovery.
Anna 2 (Kawaguchiko, Japan), Series: 36, 2019
Q: The posturing, props and wardrobe in some images touches on the idea of bondage and fetishism. What do you want to explore in this area?
BJ ~ When the wonder has gone out of a man he is dead. Love is a great emotion, and power is power, but both love and power are based on wonder. Art is good when it pushes boundaries. With our work, I never want you to feel safe from surprise.
Richeille ~ Props, location and theme help the exploration within ourselves. Sometimes the props can be mundane and other times literal and hard, like bondage. They can help accelerate a theme or slow it down. Creating something unexpected can take both us and the viewer out of our comfort zone, and put us in a place we may have not have ever visited or felt.
Yuki XVI (Chiba, Japan), Series: 36, 2020
Q: Do you use subjects as a canvas to project ideas on to or are you working from the mind of the woman and trying to express what she is thinking, feeling or saying?
Richeille ~ We always discuss the subject of our themes with our models prior to shooting. They can bring their interpretation to our photographs and that way the process is organic.
Q: In Japanese culture tattoos can be associated with Yakuza. Selecting Japanese models with tattoos plays up the taboo aspect of the images. Could you expand on this?
BJ ~ What I love about Japan is that I will never understand Japan. Our series will always be a love letter that will be work in progress. We consider Japan our spirit place and are always yearning to come back and go deeper in our exploration of the people and the landscape.
Richeille ~ Japan is a place that westerners don’t really understand. We don’t always know what we are feeling when we look at something other than wonderment. The tattooed woman captures this feeling of beauty, mystery, a glimpse into a world unknown to us. We are outsiders who are visually engaged and wanting to explore a culture that excites us so we can understand more about ourselves.
Yuki II (Chiba, Japan), Series: 36, 2020
Q: Your photograph of a woman’s ankles protruding from a photo booth is evocative, in the same way that attention is drawn to the back of a geisha’s neck. Why do you think it is so powerful to leave things unsaid?
BJ ~ Show me something I don’t know, I tell students at our workshops. Everyone knows what breasts looks like, so show me how they makes you feel instead. The strength of art lies in what you exclude from the frame.
Richeille ~ Suggestion is sometimes more powerful than action, because the imagination can build something more fantastic than the visual eye. Our memory always remembers things greater than they really are.
Kasumi XXI (Tokyo, Japan), Series: Japan Diaries, 2019
Q: Some people would not look upon their partner anymore in the way that they might with your images. Do you think it reminds us to look at different aspects of our partners?
BJ ~ That is a great question. When it is dark enough, you can see the stars. If our work can trigger rapture then so be it.
Richeille ~ I think the images are relatable in a lot of different ways to people, depending on their current or emotional position. Our images can sometimes trigger a memory or feeling from within that an individual had forgot and therefore open up discussion to see things differently.
Q: Your images may remind viewers of the film, The Pillow Book by Peter Greenaway. Has this influenced your work?
BJ ~ I have not seen that film yet! But yes, people have told me about it and the similarity to our work. When we are in Japan, we are so happy and perhaps that leads to iconic photographs.
Richeille ~ It’s fascinating to immerse ourselves in this ancient culture that has only been open to the rest of the world since the 1850’s. There are so many subcultures and characteristics unique to Japan and its people. We find ourselves in a world of emotional, psychological and physical potential when we’re there, eager to express our interpretation as foreigners in a very foreign land.
Quorra XXV (Kyoto, Japan), Series: Japan Diaries, 2013
Q: What are your future plans?
BJ ~ I will go to the ends of the world with Richeille and my camera close to my heart.
Richeille ~ To continue our journey together exploring our past, present and future. Currently we are working on a project called ‘Nostalgia’, and we continue to travel to Japan to explore.
Photographers: Formento & Formento
For more information about the artists and their work, contact Addicted Art Gallery.
Written by Skye Wellington, Lens & Pen Projects