"Listen to that rhythm," shouts Jean-Baptiste Mondino over the pounding
techno beat. "That's incredible!" As he quickly flicks into the next disc,
his eyes are on the computer screen where a cloned male model is shown
seated in a cheesy hotel room. "The legs are too short!" "The chair's or
the model's?" asks his assistant. "Both!" A few moments later all
appendages are long and sleekly proportioned.
If Mondino's video clips for the likes of Madonna, Bjork and Neneh Cherry are rightfully the stuff of pop legend, his fashion photography is often even more controversial. Sharp-edged and colour saturated, Mondino's graphically composed images are offbeat, sexy and subversive. But behind their seductive surface gloss lies another layer which is variously ironic, funny, or even sinister. He's like an end-of-millennium Guy Bourdin, snapping fashion at 140 bpm.
But if Bourdin's brand of erotically charged surrealism notoriously kept models posed for hours to get the desired effect, Mondino uses the latest in computer technology to attain his aesthetic aims. Lately, his attention has turned to ideas of body manipulations, replication and cloning. A recent series showed the same girl 8 times over, hugging and frolicking with herself. Then there was the series of 'mutilations' Mondino digitally performed on some of the world's highest-paid beautiful faces. Imagine Shalom with a black eye, Nadja's throat slit, or Amber having lost all her hair. You will have to imagine since all the girls - except Kristen McMenamy who was shown covered with scars - vetoed publication.
Fading from techno to a softer ambiance sound, Mondino begins to explain...
The idea was simply to counter the notion of supermodels. Honestly, we see
them everywhere, and something has to be done about it. Because I couldn't
do the project I had in mind (the mutilations) I went for the idea of super
models, increasing the girls' thighs, shrinking their heads. The potential
of the new technology is more than to just make people look better, it also
allows you to do the inverse.
So the computer is just one more way of manipulating the body?
Yeah, just like most of the Hollywood actors that we know have all been
We always have new technology, but what's interesting about this new technology is that we have gone much further, much faster. That is very disturbing, and I like that, because we have a tendency to progress so slowly. We quickly get used to new things, assimilate them, but this new technology is going to push things to the limit. These are the last years of conventional photography.
Are the photo editors and art directors ready to accept this?
People are still very reluctant. There are those who still think that
images should not be manipulated, that photographers should be making very
pure 'realistic' imagery.
After basing yourself in L.A. for some time, you have moved back to Paris. That must seem strange.
I've moved back to Paris because I am doing fewer music videos, and
therefore don't need to be in LA. I'm back into fashion photography much
more, and so the choice was New York or Paris. But, either way, it's
obvious that this new technology has broken those old geographic ties. The
information is going to be different - you're connected directly with the
world. People talk about Europe, but for me, Europe is a seventies
concept. Today it's a global thing.
Are you happy to be back in fashion photography?
Oh yeah. Fashion and music are the two most influential things for me.
Especially fashion, because fashion is meant to die every 3 months. This
doesn't allow you to dwell on it too long. It's a dying process, and this
forces you to always move on to the next step.
The music we listen to is also a sign of belonging to a particular group, or tribe.
I love music that is like perfume sprayed into a room. Music that's just there. When you feel like you want to express a certain mood, you put on some techno, then some ambiance or maybe some house music. We don't even know who's making this music, it's just djs mixing. There are no references.
What's also interesting with this music is the loss of the star...
I know! That's what I love about it. That's also why I'm not doing music video any more. I had some great successes with them, because I was using the video to try to express what the song, the artist, was trying to say. But now the only thing I can do with music video is play looped sequences, the same way they do with this kind of music. They're still calling me to push an artist, but I love the idea that there are no more heroes. That's the massive difference between now and a couple of years ago.
Except, ironically, in fashion, where the top models are incredible heroes.
Yeah but, you know, we have gone from war heroes, to movie stars, to pop stars, to models. If models are heroes, they are the 80s expression of heroics. In the next phase, we will be our own heroes! Believe me, the next generation is not much into the model-hero look. Sure, the people who read Harpers and Vogue still are. But the new generation don't read these magazines, and they don't dress like this, and I don't think they take these girls as role models.
Are your new cloning projects anti-hero gestures? Once someone can be reproduced ad infinitum there is no longer any individual hero.
Yeah, probably. But there's a first degree attraction to it, without
thinking too much about it. It's afterwards that you start to give it more
Are you optimistic about these changes?
Oh, very optimistic. I think we have to go on, no matter what. And sometimes you go with something that upsets your way of thinking about things, how you behave. What is interesting to me is the evolution going on in my mind. Interactivity, 3D, different ways of communicating: these are the things of the future.