Interview with visual artists Anna Devís and Daniel Rueda
Anna Devís and Daniel Rueda are the duo formed by two architects that love design, photography and illustration, who have managed to conquer the world through their iconic snapshots. Many of you will know them by their Instagram handles: @anniset and @drcuerda, where they have almost a million followers between them.
Since they set out on this adventure, they have not stopped working for great international brands such as several ministries of tourism from all over the world, who have seen in their art the perfect formula to convey their messages. You only need to encounter one of their photographs to realise the talent this duo from Valencia has, capable of playing with architecture like nobody else can and of creating fun stories, full of colour, inventiveness and balance.
A few days ago, we had the chance to chat with them and this is what they told us. Come on in and read.
How do you like to define yourselves?
We are visual artists.
Anna: When we begin a conference, we always like to define ourselves by what we are not. Because it’s true that we are architects, but we do not construct buildings. We are photographers but in reality, we are not normal photographers, and we are also illustrators, despite illustrations not being the final outcome of what we do. There are a whole bunch of labels about us, but none of them are 100% real. So we like the concept of visual artists, because it is sufficiently ambiguous to allow our real work to be understood.
As children, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Daniel: I suppose that I wanted to do something related to aeronautics to please my dad because my dad is an aeronautical maintenance technician.
However, and although I didn’t end up following in his steps, it is true that I have replicated part of his perfectionism. I am very meticulous, very rational and that is something that is reflected in our creations.
Anna: In my case, I believe that I was more of a disaster because my parents are window dressers and, as they were self-employed, they worked every single day of the week in their workshop. And I was happy there, playing with the different decorations. The thing with me is that I would dream of being something different every day: there were days that I would find plastic fruit and I wanted to be a greengrocer, other days a doctor, other days I would set up a restaurant, etc. I wasn’t clear what I wanted to do, but in the end, I have ended up doing something that has a lot to do with what my parents did. To have been with them absorbing all their knowledge I think helped me to construct images in the way that we do.
What is clear is that together we strike a good balance, like Ying and Yang.
How and when did you meet?
We met at university in 2011. Both of us have always been inquisitive, Daniel was in the Department of Culture, among a lot of other things that he did, and I was with another group of friends who were even making Fallas while we were still studying. We didn’t stop. We also shared the same concerns, and still do, and that was what partly brought us together.
During our degree, as we made so many trips to see the work of other colleagues, it allowed us to start immortalising our trips in a different way.
“We began taking these kinds of photos almost as a game and in a very innocent manner, and it has ended up becoming our job.”
How do you find being in a relationship and working together?
Anna: As in all jobs, we have our days, but we have something that we consider essential when it comes to both things: we have mutual admiration for each other. And also, our roles are very well defined. Problems tend to come up with the deliveries, because of the pressures and the stress. But in the end, these are anecdotes, so we laugh at the moment and move on to the next adventure! (she laughs)
When did the idea of creating a photographic project as unique as this come about? And, when and how, did you find your particular style that stands out for your optimistic, minimalist and poetic perspective?
“We always defend that we do what we do because we are very different, and we have combined our talents very well.”
Without saying so, you can tell that there is a lot of planning and patience involved… How many hours on average do you dedicate to each photograph?
Anna: At the start, we began taking pictures with our mobile phone and it was much more immediate, but as the years passed, we have sophisticated the process more and taken more details into account. That change takes more time, but it is truly worth it.
Daniel: It varies greatly depending on the project, but a comfortable period of time is four or five days. We take care of everything: from the wardrobe selection to the creation of the details.
Do you tend to follow the same creative process when you approach a project or does each one require a different procedure?
Daniel: We try to start from the same base, but they never come out the same. Each project is so different that is complicated to try to standardise the process.
However, what they do all have in common is the way they begin, which is with a sketch/drawing that Anna draws that comes from both her many years of illustrating and designing and from the way of approaching projects that we both learnt during our degree: we always started with a sketch.
“The initial sketch is essential. It is our plan on a 1:1 scale of what will later be the photograph.”
Do only the two of you participate or do you count on other members of the team that help you with the set up?
Daniel: It’s the two of us, but the truth is that there is a series of agents around us that participate: like our confidante at the paint shop, the person that helps us with the laser cutting, etc. We are very close to all of them and it’s true that we feel they are part of our team, although obviously each of them has their own business.
Anna: We work a lot with a spray paint shop, with a paint shop, with a fabrics shop… We always go along with the sketch and explain the project and a dialogue with them comes about that is very interesting. It’s fantastic! And well, my parents are always there, helping us. They don’t do their window dressing any more, but they are always willing to participate.
In any case, it’s true that the two of us on our own work really well together. We don’t need anything else. Our photography is simple, in the best sense of the word, we work with natural light, and that’s why we don’t need extra staff either to control the lights or other aspects. Our method of working doesn’t need a lot of hands.
You have used your architectural baggage to tell stories through surprising images that are far removed from classic architectural photography. And your particular style is characterised by the use of humour, creativity, precision and a delicate aesthetic inspired in the city, geometry and minimalism and an absence of retouching?
Anna: Yes, we don’t hide it.
“We use Photoshop but only as a tool to eliminate small imperfections, not to construct.”
Everything we want to do, we prefer to do it always on camera, unless it is impossible. That’s why, we would rather paint the wall by hand than do it digitally. We like the depth that reality brings and its roughness.
Which camera/s do you work with?
Daniel: A Hasselblad. We’re really happy with it! This camera has a way of taking photos that is very special, but that is perfect for the types of images we create.
How much time do you spend finding the locations in which to create your inventive pictures?
Anna: As well as with the brands, we also work with ministries of tourism. In fact, we have just done a campaign for Saudi Arabia. And the truth is that whenever we travel, we look for the way of being able to take these kinds of photographs that we like so much.
In terms of time, we usually do an exercise of almost travelling there before the actual trip and we do a lot of research on each destination to choose those desired spots.
“Our luggage is always prepared with the things we will need to be able to bring the image we have previously conceived to life.”
Your work has allowed you to travel all over the world discovering very different cities and cultures. What are your top 5 favourite cities?
Anna: We really like northern cities because the light is beautiful, they are really rational… a good example is Bilbao. We loved it! We went to do an exhibition, and although we didn’t get time to create much, we thought it was fantastic that people spoke properly, and they would mention the name of the architects of the buildings.
Also, Qatar has been a playground. The project we did was in the Education City, which is like a very big University Campus where each building is by a mega architect. We were amazed because they were all there. And they were all buildings with a lot of character that gave us a lot of scope. It was like Disneyland for architects.
On the other hand, we also love Austria. We went there to do a project and it really surprised us. Everything is really well looked after, very clean and tidy, and that is not always the case in more traditional places. The project was a campaign for the Ministry of Tourism for Austria, through which they wanted to show their more contemporary side with the presence of contemporary dance artists. To do so, they took us to museums and it was a marvelous experience.
Another country that fascinates us is the Netherlands. Because as well as the traditional architecture, they also know how to combine it really well with incredible contemporary buildings. And that gives us a lot to play with.
On Instagram, you are @anniset and @drcuerda, and in fact, it was thanks to this app that your beautiful project became visible throughout the world and it has allowed you to work with brands such as Netflix, Coca-Cola, Disney or Facebook, as well as to illustrate book covers, billboards and to be present in many magazines. How do you feel having come this far? Did you imagine it would be like this?
Daniel: We’re happy!
“The first campaign we did was for Swatch in 2016. It was on a global scale.”
From Times Square to the underground in Sydney… It was crazy! After that, we worked with Netflix and with other big clients, and the truth is we’re really satisfied with everything we’ve been achieving.
Anna: I really like talking to students to make it clear that passion is really important despite it not guaranteeing anything. But we started out a bit like that, really enthusiastic, enjoying a hobby, and without knowing it would take us so far. It all evolved gradually.
As well as having been included in Forbes magazine’s prestigious European “30 under 30” list in the Arts & Culture category for: “their inventive use of everyday objects and natural light”, you have also become “Hasselblad Global Ambassador”. How do you feel having received these awards? What do these accolades mean to you?
Daniel: As they arrived during the pandemic, we haven’t really been able to enjoy them 100%. Specially, the awards ceremonies… (they laugh)
Anna: Forbes, for example, was in March 2020, which was just after we were locked down and I remember that I woke up in the early hours and saw an email from Forbes U.S. where they announced the award, but I was so astonished that I asked Daniel to read it to see if it was true (they laugh). And the next thing we did was to think of ways of celebrating, like buying a bottle of wine but everything was closed (they laugh). And it was the same with Hasselblad.
“There are only 12 Hasselblad Ambassadors in the world, and we are one of them!”
The awards are like a pat on the back that tells you “you’re doing it right”. In any case, we are really modest about these things. We feel very flattered, but we also know that there are really good people that could also have received it.
Daniel: We value more the fact that an image of ours can reach a lot of people, that they can share it or make it theirs. And we also appreciate when we receive a project where you can tell that the client really trusts us. In fact, this happened recently with a client from a wine brand with which we work. She was really happy with the result and was really grateful to us. Those are the kinds of things that really touch us.
Your art is present in art galleries all over the world. Are you represented by any gallery in particular? And incidentally, do you have any exhibitions planned in the near future? If so, where?
Anna: When we imagine an image, we see it in print. The end goal of our images is for them to be hanging in a gallery or in someone’s living room. And yes, we work with two art galleries, one is in Tel Aviv (Mika Gallery) and the other is in Miami (Think + Feel Contemporary).
In regard to the exhibitions, it’s true that they regularly come up, but the thing is that they require a lot of work, and we have our hands full at the moment. If only we had a curating figure… In any case, we hope to put on an exhibition in Korea soon.
Your photographs are very much linked to the city and to architecture. What other sources of inspiration are essential to you?
Anna: We love Jean Julien, the illustrator, because our photography is in fact like an illustration in real life.
Daniel: Exactly! That’s why I think that, rather than names, what influences us is above all, different ways of working.
“We are influenced by references whose work transcends frontiers and stands the test of time.”
Anna: What we really like is to create from a blank page without looking for references or influences. Our intention is always to create something new and above all, that our work is as pure as possible.
Colour is also another essential element of your work. Do you take into account the psychology of colour or is it something that happens in a more casual way?
Anna: The colour aspect is something I do almost without meaning to. And in a way, we are aware that the ability to combine colours is a superpower that not everyone has. In my case, it is something I took for granted, maybe because as a child I had painted with oils, pastels, I had mixed colours… It’s something that comes naturally. In fact, for example when I see a colour, I immediately know what other colours it is made up of. And then, obviously, I know how they complement each other, which colours will suit it, which colour to highlight over the others, etc… So yes, colour is essential in our work and our choice of colours is a very conscious one.
Daniel: I think it’s black magic! (they laugh)
How much of your work is commissioned and in that case: how much freedom do they give you?
Daniel: In general, almost total freedom. As we work from a drawing on a scale of 1:1 of what will be the final photo, it is very easy for the client to imagine it, and the truth is that we normally work very fluently. Although it is true that sometimes they ask us for very specific things, very focused on the client’s product and although it’s a little outside our vision, we are able to adapt to that request and give it our personal touch.
What are you working on at the moment? What future projects can you tell us about?
Daniel: The book with Counter Prints; the design of a wine label; we will give a 4-day workshop in Paris next May; we also have an exhibition and the design of a poster for a theatre company in Barcelona pending, among other things. Oh! And the biggest project is the refurbishment of our studio.
A book, a series, a film and a song or group that you have liked recently.
Daniel: Film; What Bo Burnham did during the pandemic. It’s called “Bo Burnham: Inside” and it’s on Netflix. It’s a kind of musical comedy, for want of a term, that I highly recommend.
Anna: Book, I recommend “The Binding” which is also beautiful.
Daniel: I really liked Oliver Sim’s solo album The xx.
“When I work, I really like to listen to Rosalía.”
(*) Photos provided by Anna Devís and Daniel Rueda.
Beti-Jai: a beautiful historical fronton in the centre of the Chamberí district