A watermelon, jaggedly cut open as if baring its fangs, sits on its side. The large fruit is stuffed with strawberries and displayed on a platter, surrounded by wedges of its own kind. Above the vibrant image is a line of three cartoonish symbols, known as Emojis: watermelon slice, strawberry, watermelon slice.
The scene is the creation of Elise Mazac and Robert Drowilal, a young French photography duo known as Mazaccio & Drowilal. It may seem surface, even childish, but the piece—and the team’s work as a whole—really delves deep into photography and our perception of it. The colourful fruit image is part of Mazaccio & Drowilal’s latest exhibition, “Antépisode”, a French word meaning prequel. The collection of images, depicting palm trees and vibrant rubber balls, explores the beginnings and inner workings of the technological hub that is Silicon Valley. Through the use of colour—and pairing each image with its corresponding Emoji sequence—Mazaccio & Drowilal force their viewers to pause for a moment, to stop and examine what pattern of work creates a technological advancement (and, in some ways, a photograph). “This is the first time we’re exhibiting with Emojis,” says Drowilal. “It’s a kind of translation of each picture. Photography is a language, Emojis are a language.” Mazac echoes the thought, calling the symbols, which are commonly used in text messages to convey a feeling or action, “very effective”. Through this series, Mazaccio & Drowilal work to remind viewers that photographs are art, to be sure, but they are also objects. The duo’s depiction of scenes and items is intended to poke fun at photography as much as heighten the value of it.
The duo’s depiction of scenes and items is intended to poke fun at photography as much as heighten the value of it.
To create “Antépisode”, which premiered at 2015’s Paris Photo Los Angeles, Mazaccio & Drowilal began digging into photographic media including Tumblr, Photoshop, and Instagram. “We really wanted to know about the ideologies behind these technologies—who is creating the software and apps, and in what context?” says Drowilal. They travelled to California to gather information, visiting the offices of tech companies and other famous places such as Steve Jobs’s garage and Stanford University, and photographing characteristically West Coast moments. Mazaccio & Drowilal were drawn to the North American, and particularly the Californian, way of life. “It seems the relationship to their work is not the same as in France,” says Drowilal. “There is an idea for having fun at work, which is totally different than in our country.” Mazac agrees: “It was a scene that interests us. It interests us in terms of being a society of fun, as well as a society of individualism and personal development.” Drowilal lets a smile creep across his face, adding, “As artists, we have fun at work.” This is the way the duo operates in photography and in life, feeding off of each other and easily continuing the other person’s thought, but never speaking over one another or fighting for attention. They met in 2006 and quickly bonded over their love of contemporary pop culture and conceptual art, becoming a couple in their personal lives as well as photography. This romantic connection, evidently, only makes their work partnership stronger. “It is fun and a lot of communication. We discuss a lot,” says Mazac. “We are together for every step.” They both conceptualize, they both photograph, they both edit; neither one takes ownership over a given photograph or idea, instead choosing to see every notion, every ounce of creative output, as a joint venture.
Also on display at Paris Photo Los Angeles was the duo’s other major exhibition, the cheeky “Wild Style”, which they worked on during a three-month residency, sponsored by BMW, at the musée Nicéphore Niépce in 2013. “Wild Style” explores kitsch, intentionally going over the top with tackiness and colour. It centres on animals, and in particular, the way that humans view them, often projecting their own feelings and thoughts onto their pets. Included is a shaggy black dog looking out onto a sunset, a pair of cats being held by unidentified humans dressed in wolf T-shirts, and a tiger, paws crossed as if mid-dance, against a bright blue sky. Like much of Mazaccio & Drowilal’s work, some of the pieces are not entirely what they seem: the dogs, for instance, were actually photographed in a studio and then collaged onto the sunsets. We may think that a dog is looking thoughtfully at a beautiful sky, as if in reflection, but is that actually what the animal sees and feels? “Wild Style” forces us to check our own perceptions.
Mazaccio & Drowilal work to remind viewers that photographs are art, but they are also objects.
The exhibition is as playful and humorous as it is thought-provoking, a product of the duo’s lack of artistic boundaries during the residency. “We were totally free,” Drowilal says, which allowed them to truly explore their work and hone their creative direction—a sort of coming-of-age. “Before the residency program we were totally unknown,” says Mazac. “Because we are so young.” Mazac is 27 and Drowilal is 29, relatively elementary in the world of art: “We’re baby artists,” jokes Drowilal. Ripe, sure, but also mature, thoughtful, and well on their way to fully blossomed careers. And their youth actually works largely in their favour; their connection to the digital world and ability to decipher what is relevant aids them in their depiction of the modern, the on-trend. In today’s image-driven world, there is always more to see. And between Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, Tumblr, and Facebook, the landscape of photography is growing and morphing at a rapid pace. “I think it’s changing with the Internet,” says Drowilal. “The fact that so many images are on the Internet, it’s very stimulating.” Some might find the inundation of photographs to be an uninvited blizzard of over-saturation, but not Mazaccio & Drowilal. “Most of our inspiration comes from this tsunami of photographs,” Drowilal explains. It’s not overwhelming for them—rather, it’s just fuel for their quirky, bright fire.