When Seoul-based designer Juun J released a selection of neoprene sweaters printed with robotic portraits for Fall 12, they took on an almost immediate cult status. The portraits possessed an otherworldly sensibility; stoic female characters in exotic, surreal settings, half-hidden beneath discarded RedBull cans, detached zippers, hand warmers, or old toys. JUUN.J later released the images on a series of t-shirts available now at SSENSE (with more coming next week).
JUUN.J’s now-famous prints come from a larger photographic series created by Swiss duo Alex Gertschen and Felix Meier, better known simply as Alex and Felix. Dubbed 13 Queens, the photographs are created using staged shooting techniques, produced almost entirely without the use of digital alteration. We caught up with Alex and Felix to discuss the making of the 13 Queens, their collaboration with JUUN.J, and the significance behind each of the Queen’s objects.
We met at a party! We started to talk about photography, and after we showed each other our photography maps, and a lot of our work fit together very well. We worked on small projects together and eventually the partnership just happened.
He wrote me an email. We didn’t know his work before he contacted me, so we looked at his collections. We knew immediately it was going to be great – he has very much his own voice. Our aesthetics work well together, which is good because you never know how something like this will turn out. I would love to do something like this again.
Yes! Why not? We think that bridging art with other things is wonderful. Fashion especially…taking the paintings off the wall and putting them on the clothing you wear every day. Seeing the Queens in movement on the runway was amazing.
We tried in the past to work with computers, but it’s a very different world for us. Staging the shoots means a lot of decisions need to be made on the spot, and we can’t go back and change it, so it’s more fun. Sitting in front of a computer, you have a lot of chances to change things.
Creating a story is always at the center of our photography. We like to create characters and take them on a journey – especially with the Queens, we searched every day for the objects we used, and each one told a different part of the story. They’re like identity cards.
The biggest challenge is to actually realize our ideas. The first time we staged one of the Queens, she looked like a character out of Star Trek Enterprise or something. Even though the Queens are meant to be a bit funny, the Enterprise look was a bit too funny.
We loved the idea of portraiture, the very strong portraits you see in churches or in castles, even Russian or Greek religious icons, the Virgin Mary. We loved the serious nature of those portraits.
The main element in the Queen Rocket portrait is the RedBull can, which represents energy - it is essential to her character. There’s also an hourglass, which represents that the energy is “limited” - it is unstable. Queen Rocket’s biggest challenge is deciding how to spend her energy.
Sometimes, we were very inspired by one object, like the RedBull can. When we saw it, we knew that we wanted to create an “Energy” Queen, and we built the image around that. Sometimes, we had come up with story first, and we had to find objects to match it. It was different for every Queen.