Karen Inderbitzen-Waller & Delphine Avril Planqueel

Karen Inderbitzen-Waller and Delphine Avril Planqueel's photographic style illustrates the merging of two strong viewpoints. With their innate fashion and art sensibilities, Delphine's technical skills in lighting, film direction, post-production and web design, (plus her striking looks which are captured in some of Karen's images), and Karen's eye for styling, photography and creative direction, they have become one of New Zealand's top fashion photography duos and garnered accolades internationally.

Each had successful careers in the fashion industry before their paths converged in 2005. French-born Delphine was an international model, including at one time being the house model for Lanvin and Sonia Rykiel. Karen was a top stylist and photographer, who had made her name as a fashion editor and photographer at Pavement magazine. After meeting in an elevator at Work: Models in Sydney, the two became partners and collaborators. They have now worked together for 11 years. The couple had a civil union in 2009, at Las Vegas, a former Auckland strip club which features in the pair's book Smoke & Mirrors

Their images are strong, sexy and gritty, with a documentary feel, and, at times, slightly surreal elements. Having control over the entire look of the image - from styling and set design, to photography and post-production - is important to the couple. They style together these days, and often shoot on two cameras, to capture as many angles and details as possible. "It helps us to always have that same overall look to our work," explains Karen. "I like the consistency. We don’t like a lot of retouching. A lot of people like to leave things to post-production but we like to get things as good to the eye as possible. We like our work to look as much like film and as natural as possible."

Photo of Codie Young wearing Raf Simons for Black Magazine 2012. Image © Karen Inderbitzen-Waller and Delphine Avril Planqueel.

Their talent has recently been recognised by Vogue Italia. They were two of only 12 photographers around the world to be selected for a portfolio review with the magazine's senior photo editor and digital editor, Alessia Glaviano. The pair were subsequently invited to become gold members of PhotoVogue. "We were the only people that weren’t from Europe," says Karen. "It was such a good pat on the back to keep going. Being down in New Zealand you wonder if your work stands up, I mean obviously we shoot in Paris as well, but she was so positive about our work. It makes all the free shoots and everything we do seem worthwhile."

Karen was born in New Plymouth, and studied at Selwyn College in Auckland. Her mother is a fashion textile importer establishing a fashion connection from a young age. She started styling at the age of 20, and became the fashion editor for Pavement

The magazine's founders Barney McDonald and Glenn Hunt recognised Karen's desire to take the photographs herself and gave her the opportunity to get behind the camera and shoot editorial stories for the magazine. Although she didn’t have any formal training, she honed her skills working in partnership with old school friend and then boyfriend, photographer Christopher Abbott. His contribution is acknowledged in the dedication in Smoke & Mirrors.

Karen Inderbitzen-Waller started at Pavement magazine as fashion editor before moving into photography. Image from Pavement, Spring 2005 © Pavement magazine and Karen Inderbitzen-Waller.

Delphine was born in Rouen, Normandy, and went to high school at Lycée les Bruyères, before studying psychology at the University of Rouen, and modelling in Paris and around the world. She completed a one year photography internship at Auckland's Kingsize Studios when she moved to New Zealand. This was a time when the industry made the final switch to digital. "We had no choice but to start shooting digital in 2006 as everything suddenly changed and clients and magazines no longer allowed the budget for film. Within a few months we fully crossed over from medium format Mamiya with a polaroid back, to a 5D Canon digital camera," Karen says.

The pair divides their time between Auckland and France, where Delphine’s family is still based. They usually spend the New Zealand winter in France, holidaying, working and shooting personal projects, with time in Paris and the South of France. "It’s just so relaxing and amazing down there," Karen says. Last year they shot on the coast of Normandy for Australian magazine Love Want.

In 2013 they released a book, Smoke & Mirrors, a sumptuous collection of fashion, documentary and travel images, compiled over seven years. It showcases the pair's unique style, with a raw depth to shots and a vintage film aesthetic, and shots often taken in nature or seemingly seedy locales. Top models Julia Nobis, Jasper and Zippora Seven and Vinnie Woolston in various states of undress mingle with shots of cigarette butts ('Confetti and Cigarette Butts') and faded motel rooms ('Twin Beds in a Paeroa Motel Room').

An image from Karen and Delphine's book, Smoke and Mirrors, 2011. Image © Karen Inderbitzen-Waller and Delphine Avril Planqueel.

There's a surreal landscape of a bed in a lake, with bedding made from patchworked vintage undergarments. This piece was also documented for a short film, and appeared as an installation in the exhibition Smoke & Mirrors at Saatchi & Saatchi Gallery at the time of the book launch and in 2016 as part of the Intellectual Fashion Show at the Gus Fisher Gallery.

Sue Crockford, herself a former model and owner of an eponymous fine arts gallery, wrote the foreword for the book. "From my early days she always totally understood me more than anybody else," says Karen. "I remember my first shoot I ever did for Pavement, she completely picked what film I’d been inspired by and it was really obscure. I’ve had an amazing bond with her and it was really cool for me to get into her gallery. Unfortunately it was just before it closed down."

Another career highlight for the women was having work commissioned by the Auckland War Memorial Museum in 2013 for the Victoria and Albert Museum touring fashion photography exhibition Selling Dreams.

New Zealand fashion clients have included LonelyNOM*dHelen Cherry, Salasai, Karen Walker, Kay Goss, Miss Crabb, Eugenie and Harman Grubiša. They have published work in titles such as Black MagazineNOLove WantRussh and Oyster, and styled for the likes of The Kills and Peaches.

Photo for Black Magazine, 2014. Image © Karen Inderbitzen-Waller and Delphine Avril Planqueel.

As well as doing costume design for television commercials, the pair have worked in film direction, creating music videos for Anthonie Tonnon and videos for designers such as Deadly Ponies and NOM*d. "We would love to do more of this when we can find  time," Karen says. "We want to make a short film now!"

Inspirations tend to be obscure films or photographs. Photographers that have inspired the pair include "Helmut Newton and his portrayal of sexy powerful women, Nan Goldin for her documentary style photography and Cindy Sherman for her film stills series," Karen says. "Locally, Derek Henderson, who I worked with a lot for Pavement magazine. His natural, effortless style was inspiring and new."

Of their own style, Karen says "we are very aware of what is happening overseas and are always careful to acknowledge but never copy. I think it's very important to forge our own voice. We do that by keeping it close to us and trying to stay true to who we are and what we are thinking. Working predominantly from New Zealand, we still think on an international level so that our work stands up internationally, and we are able to be accepted in Paris, our other home."

Karen describes their recent work as "more polished and more lucid" than their early shots. "We have definitely found our style or photographic voice which I think is so important but only comes with time and experience. It feels good to be documenting and hopefully leaving lasting imagery for later. Spending such a huge part of our lives doing photography means every day is documented. We try to make images that stand the test of time." 

Text by Fiona Ralph. Banner image © Karen Inderbitzen-Waller and Delphine Avril Planqueel.

Last published May 2017.

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