Behind the Lens
Sculpting with Light
Dung Ngo interviews photographers Pernille Loof and Thomas Loof about their high-profile shoots
Pernille Loof and Thomas Loof are two well-regarded photographers who also happen to be married to each other. Danish-born, they have been based in New York City since the late 1990s. Their clients include high-profile magazines like Architectural Digest, Elle Decor, and AUGUST Journal, as well as brands like Georg Jensen, Coca Cola, and RH. Their classically trained Nordic eye and love of light and texture make them the perfect subject for my Behind the Lens column.
Dung Ngo: Pernille and Thomas, thank you so much for doing this. First, where have you and your family been during the quarantine?
Pernille Loof: We have been hunkered down in our house in Upstate NY. Despite all the dire events in the world, we have enjoyed quiet time with family and intense Facetime sessions with friends and families overseas. Our two kids have been busy with online learning, and we have been working on our house, cooking, and dreaming up our next moves as this pandemic has paralyzed our normal travel schedules.
Thomas Loof: Our house upstate is designed by Danish architect Thomas Juul Hansen.
DN: You are both Danish. Where did you first meet?
TL: We met in New York City, actually! Pernille was studying architecture at Columbia at the time, while I was assisting my cousin (the photographer) Marc Hom.
DN: So it was you who made her defect from architecture to photography?!
TL: Haha! Actually, Pernille started working at Interior Design as a photo editor after architecture school.
PL: Mayer Rus, who was the editor in chief of Interior Design at the time, was amazing and took a chance on me when I finished my studies.
DN: You are now both very accomplished and in-demand photographers. Have you worked together?
TL: We love working together and still try to do it whenever we can. One of our first shoots together was the Arango House in Acapulco by John Lautner.
DN: I love that house! How did that shoot happen?
PL: That house is exceptional! I contacted the Lautner Foundation, tracked down the owner, and asked Mayer if he was up for it. It was just Thomas and I and a 4x5 camera in Acapulco. Mayer was so supportive, and it really kicked everything off.
DN: What was your reaction when you entered the house and saw it for the first time?
PL: I was speechless—that view overlooking the Pacific, combined with Lautner’s vision… just perfect. Few houses accomplish that. Another trippy architectural experience we had was the Pierre Cardin house, Maison Bulles [by Hungarian architect Antti Lovag], in southern France. Again, an architect who considers everything from the doorway to the exterior.
DN: What is the most recent collaboration between the two of you?
PL: We photographed our friend Mark Ruffalo for a Variety cover story in March. It was a closed set—pretty intense planning for this shoot as the world was closing down—and it was just the three of us. Luckily this particular shoot was close to both of our upstate homes.
DN: How did you manage the shoot with social distancing in place? And on a typical shoot, who else would you have on set?
PL: Social distancing is not a favorite of ours. We are both very social people who prefer to closely interact with our team and subjects on shoots. Typically there is an art director, a design director, our assistants, a stylist, and a stylist assistant; sometimes a location manager, a producer, and workers who build the sets. And a celebrity shoot would typically add wardrobe, hair, and makeup—and sometimes the talent’s agent and PR.
DN: So it ended up being a much more intimate shoot. I suppose there was no hair and make-up needed with Mark wearing a bandana as a face mask.
PL: Haha, exactly. We improvised everything for this, and our hand sanitizer tagged along. Mark was amazing. And despite the intensity of the pandemic, he really enjoyed the intimacy and no-fuss atmosphere.
DN: Pernille, what have you shot recently that was special to you?
PL: I recently shot Lulu de Kwiatkowski’s house for Architectural Digest, which was fun. It was a very lifestyle-oriented shoot, and we focused on Lulu and tried to capture her free spirited personality in Lyford Cay.
DN: I loved this shoot; it was as much about the family as it was the house. That opener shot with the kids jumping into the pools must have taken a few takes.
PL: Oh yes, coordinating three boys was a trip. But everyone aced it, and we had a great time.
DN: Do you do some of the styling on shoots, or do you always work with a stylist?
PL: There is usually a stylist on set, and there are some wonderful people that I absolutely adore. The king of it all, Michael Reynolds, brings a vision to everything he works on. I also love working with Mieke ten Have—we have done a lot with her and AD lately. She has this chic and very feminine touch and understands the vision. It makes my work better and way more enjoyable.
DN: Thomas, what recent shoot is special to you?
TL: The new Pace Gallery in Chelsea by the architects Bonetti/Kozerski was a big shoot for me.
DN: What are the challenges of shooting a multiple-floor building like the Pace Gallery? How much context do you decide to include when you shoot in an urban environment?
TL: I’m always striving for that perfect shot, so the weather and timing are paramount—hurrying when the light is leaving us or being patient when you know it will come back in an hour or so. I believe context is crucial. The urban landscape is like a family with sisters you love and that uncle who you’d like to avoid but probably shouldn’t. So most often I curate the context to fit my expression. What I enjoyed about this project is how important its scale is right now to transforming the Chelsea gallery landscape. ◆
All images courtesy of Pernille Loof and Thomas Loof.