SteytPeña’s Luis and Laurence

Luis Peña and Laurence Steyt met in 2004 in Paris while working as assistants in the same studio. The photographers, both with a special affinity for fashion and people, and both with roots in Kortrijk, stayed in touch down the years and became friends. When Laurence moved back home to Belgium in 2007, they got to work on a project together, quickly coming to the conclusion that it was something they wanted to do again. And so SteytPeña Productions was born. Laurence says “Our first photo project together was about pregnancy. How symbolic!.” For almost a year now, the they have been based in Brussels, their clients ranging from big brands like Schiesser or American Outfitters to young designers like Conni Kaminiski.

Why is two better than one?

Laurence: Because creativity has a snowball effect. Someone has an idea, passes it on to the other one who throws it back and it gets bigger and bigger. And when you work alone you can quickly get stuck in your own limited vision. When you have a partner, you get a wake-up call every single day. We’ve both changed and grown together a lot.

Luis: Yes, we help each other and make each other grow. That’s very important. And when you work with someone else there is less room for mistakes, because there is always someone to control your work. For us, that works very well because we can really trust each other.

Isn’t two harder than one?

Luis: Of course there’s always room for discussion, but we don’t really argue. Our discussion are very constructive, unlike in a couple actually. We are very intuitive and know each other very well.

Laurence: We are both rather easy characters and easily understand each other.

Does 1+1 always equal 2?

Laurence: It equals 3 because of the snowball effect I mentioned earlier. Our project and our ideas keep on growing. We are a team, and often it actually feels we are more than just two. When we put our equipment together in the beginning we realised that we had more stuff than just for two. There’s four hands and we manage to do so much more than if we were alone. We can go to parallel meetings, sometimes one of us goes alone to a shoot,…We can take on so much more work. Also, we have interns from time to time, something I really enjoy. I love to teach.

Do either of you ever wish it was just 1? (Be honest!)

Laurence: I’ve never actually thought about it. That would be weird. Who would you talk to when you have an issue to solve? When there’s a client who says he wants a black instead of a white bottle and are not sure what to do, you can just say: Hey, I’ll have to discuss this with my partner and will get back to you. When you are alone you don’t have that excuse and often have to answer directly. Or when you have questions about prices. We can talk openly about this with each other, but when you work on your own and have to ask other photographers, but they see you as competition and might not tell you the truth.

Luis: It’s always good to have a second opinion, especially when you have to make a decision about something. That would be much more difficult alone. We always have each other to help.

Is 2 better than 3? They say never 2 without 3…

Luis: That would be difficult. Out styles are so similar and we know each other so well that it’s hard to integrate a third person. I think I would be jealous! (laughter)

Laurence: It would make the decision-making process so much more difficult. Plus, we know each other so well. We are friends, know each others families…it would probably be not very easy for the third person.

Luis: How do you say? Too many chefs spoil the broth?

Do either of you ever feel alone, even when you’re two?

Laurence: Maybe when the other one has a bad day and isn’t in the mood to chat. Or when Luis is really concentrated on retouching on his computer and doesn’t have time to discuss things. We basically always shoot together. We only split up when there is really no other way, and usually only for smaller projects like the portrait of a CEO.

Luis: I never really feel alone. We plan each concept together. The end result is always our work. I don’t like to go to shootings alone, I have to carry all the equipment by myself!

Can you remember a life without your +1?

Laurence: I felt very alone. It’s not easy to start out as a photographer in general, and when you have to do it by yourself you can get frustrated very easily. It was much better in a team: When, once again, I had been on the phone for two hours and still nobody wanted to meet me, we would just go have a beer.

Luis: When you fail you can share the burden and it doesn’t feel as heavy. Together we are much stronger than on our own. When we go to a meeting to present our work we show up as a pair and with two portfolios. It was horrible to sit alone in front of four people who all judged you. This tandem approach works really well.

Laurence: Most people react positively. But there are some who ask: What? Do we have to pay two? We only need one photographer! But what counts is the result, not how many we are.

Is it all 50/50?

Luis: The cleaning is 100% me! (laughter)

Laurence: It’s true, I hate to clean. But everything else is 50/50!