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The Inspiration Behind Inez and Vinoodh’s Taylor Swift TIME Person of the Year Covers TIME

Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin, better known professionally by their first names only, are responsible for some of the most striking celebrity portraits of their generation, from Lady Gaga to Barack Obama. The pair, who are partners in both work and life, met as students at fashion school in their hometown of Amsterdam and made names for themselves as the go-to photographers for cutting-edge fashion editorials and big-name luxury brands.

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As early adopters of digital photography, they became known for their experimental style, sharp images, and fine-art sensibility—all elements that helped produce their distinctive portraits. Inez and Vinoodh have a way of making every subject look and feel confident. Their often-high profile subjects are rendered even more powerful, more glamorous, and more dynamic than they may already feel, making the couple apt documenters to the world of celebrity.

So perhaps it’s only fitting that the duo would take on a subject as culturally dominant as Taylor Swift. During her cover shoot in New York City for TIME’s Person of the Year story, Inez and Vinoodh captured the pop star in her prime, in the midst of her Eras tour. While the pair had photographed her once before, for a 2019 Vogue shoot, they were excited to collaborate with her again, calling her the “ideal subject.”

Ahead of the launch of TIME’s 2023 Person of the Year story, Inez spoke to TIME about their inspiration for the shoot, what’s changed since they last photographed Taylor, and their favorite Swift era.

TIME: How did you prepare for your shoot with Taylor?

Inez van Lamsweerde: First of all, we went to see The Eras Tour movie—it’s just incredible. And then we did a deep dive into all her different personifications and the way she expressed her feelings over the years of her career to form a concept. We were mostly struck by watching her perform her lyrics, the way she relates to you and how that releases an extraordinary sense of empathy in her. The way she talks, the way she looks at life, it’s with this heightened sense of empathy that’s quite extraordinary. Combined with this incredibly glamorous side that’s sort of like old Hollywood and her amazing strength, defiance and power, we tried to express each of them throughout all the different sessions that we did. 

Taylor’s currently in the midst of her Eras Tour. Obviously, she was in a different era the last time you shot her in 2019. How do you think she has changed? How do you perceive her in her current era?

I think it’s mostly growing up. I could see the extreme fulfillment she has from performing. She loves performing. She loves the connection that she has with people. That’s what’s extraordinary about her openness and respectfulness. She’s just a very generous, gentle person; she’ll have an opinion and she’ll express it in the most respectful way and is extremely collaborative. It’s extraordinary how someone of that level of fame can actually stay that connected and in touch with life and our own feelings. She doesn’t seem at all like she’s removed from reality—she’s very much in it.

What do you think makes Taylor an interesting subject to shoot?

Apart from her beauty, obviously, there’s this idea that she’s your best friend. What’s so wonderful about her is she’s open and real and she’ll talk about anything, like she does in her lyrics—she loves connecting. It’s about what she expresses that people can actually relate to, feel comforted by or inspired by, or [be] given strength by and it’s quite extraordinary the way she manages to do that. She basically provided the soundtrack to so many young people’s lives; people have grown up with her.

Read More: Taylor Swift Makes History as Person of the Year. Here’s How

Do you have a favorite era of Taylor’s?

That’s hard for me because I like all of it. I think Reputation is probably my favorite, just for the defiance of it. 

Can we talk about the photo of Taylor with her cat?

Benjamin! [Swift has a ragdoll cat named Benjamin Button.]

How did this photo come about?

There’s a book by photographer Bill Hayward called Cat People from the ‘70s, with journalistic photos of cat lovers and their cats, but it’s all entertainers, writers, journalists—some very famous, some not so famous. And the pictures are brilliant. It shows very well the relationship that people have with their cats. But at the same time, [shows] the way cats are kind of on their own—they’re a special breed of animal. So I got a vintage copy of it for Taylor because I know she’s a major cat lover, and her cats travel with her. And I said, “You know, I’ve always wanted to do a picture like the one that’s on the cover of that book where the cat’s on the shoulder of the girl.” It speaks to a sense of carrying everything on your shoulders but being defiant while doing so. And she agreed and that’s how that picture happened.

Read More: Behind the Scenes of TIME’s 2023 Person of the Year Issue

Why do you think that the photo would embody Taylor in this particular moment?

It really has everything: Her glamor, her power, her sense of empathy of carrying the whole world on her shoulders. Because if you do feel like that—she’s so involved in everything, whether it’s getting young people to vote, etc.—she’s always pushing for things that are outside of the music realm. I felt that there is something there in her body position that’s very powerful and strong. Her expression and the way she looks has this old Hollywood glamor but underneath, there’s so much power in her stance. The way she has Benjamin on her shoulders is kind of like, ‘Yeah, I’m carrying you all.’ 

Cady Lang

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