Jalan and Jibril Durimel have lived in Los Angeles for nearly five years, which, for the brothers, means stagnation. It’s probably time to move on. “That’s not really us,” Jibril said one recent afternoon, on the phone from Paris. “I really need to keep moving.”
He and Jalan had just returned from scouting trips to Sierra Leone and London, where they also collaborated on a to-be-announced project with menswear designer Grace Wales Bonner. The 23-year-old twin photographers, who most recently shot Kenzo’s Spring 2017 campaign starring Kelsey Lu, Jesse Williams, and Tracee Ellis Ross, lived a quasi-nomadic childhood: Born to French Caribbean parents in Paris, they spent two years on the francophone island of Guadeloupe before moving to Miami at age four, then to the English- and Dutch-speaking St. Maarten at 12, and finally back to the United States to study film at a community college in L.A. at 17. They’ve been there ever since.
About two months ago, the Durimels signed with the agency CLM, which has given them more opportunity for travel. They still thrive on being constantly uprooted: “Anywhere we go, we’re always foreigners,” Jibril said. That sense of perpetual outsider-ness attunes them to aspects of marginalized cultures they might not otherwise pick up on, and allows them to see their surroundings with fresh eyes.
Though their childhood was hardly ever stable—in addition to constantly moving, they cycled through seven nannies in their teenage years, and had a tough time fitting in at school—they found themselves often bored.
“We always talk about boredom,” Jibril said. “Boredom has been kind of a thing that’s helped us find inspirations.” They discovered the internet; they got into cinema; and they looked forward to college. All were means of escape. Eventually—and “unfortunately,” said Jalan—they also started a short-lived style blog which marked their foray into still photography. It won them a couple modeling gigs, too, including a campaign with American Apparel, but the twins preferred to work behind the camera. They started cutting themselves out of their style portraits, instead seeking out street-cast models.
They still cast much of their work off the stret, and even when commissioned to shoot musicians and actors—they’ve photographed Dev Hynes of Blood Orange, Korean rapper Keith Ape, and Kuoth Wiel, a Sudanese-Ethiopian actress who featured in David O. Russell’s Prada film, Past Forward, among others—it’s the narrative their subject has to tell that continues to motivate their work, a holdover from their cinematic influences.
More recently, they’ve returned to filmmaking, directing a music video for the folk musician Mereba, titled “Bet.” In grainy, dreamily lit vignettes, it recounts the tragic trajectory of a young gay man in the Caribbean, where queerness remains taboo today. The protagonist seesaws between self-acceptance and repression until, one day, he’s picked up on the side of the road. A man brings him back to his house—and proceeds to beat him bloody. In lieu of gory, violent images, the pummeling is instead rendered in fists covered in gold glitter and bursts of fireworks.
“We’re trying to figure out how we can use art as a serious tool of communication technique to bring social change,” Jalan said. “Art, and beauty, is the perfect tool to bridge gaps of the unknown.… That’s the first thing we can tell to someone that doesn’t speak our language.”
Last summer, the video showed at Los Angeles’s Underground Museum, the venue founded by the late artist Noah Davis, brother of Kahlil Joseph. The Underground Museum is also where, one evening in early February, the entire cast and crew of Kenzo and Joseph’s Music Is My Mistress gathered to celebrate the brand’s Spring 2017 campaign. There, Joseph vouched for Jalan and Jibril when he learned they brothers had been optioned for the project, which was both a video and still image campaign with Ross, Lu, and Williams; the L.A.-based director is a close friend of the owners of Union Los Angeles, the men’s shop where the Durimel brothers work during their off time to help pay the bills.
Though Jalan and Jibril have been interested in the narrative capacity of fashion for years, Kenzo was their first campaign for a fashion house. Many of the most renowned fashion photographer duos—Mert and Marcus, Inez and Vinoodh—are first-name-only famous. And while Jalan and Jibril rolls off the tongue, they work instead as Durimel, which speaks to their seamlessness as collaborators. They even finish each others’ sentences.
“The same way one person would learn to work by themselves, we just work together,” Jibril said.
“It’s all we know,” Jalan added.
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