Stefanie Schneider is a German multimedia artist based between Los Angeles and Berlin. She uses exposed Polaroid film to create beautiful, eye-catching photographs that depict stories and celebrate nostalgia.
You were born in Berlin, but currently live and work in Los Angeles. What was it that encouraged you to move to Los Angeles?
Actually, I was born in Cuxhaven and then moved to Los Angeles right after I graduated from the Folkwang Hochschule in Essen–in the middle of the nineties. At the time, LA was economically devastated, the city was somehow trying to recover from the Northridge earthquake and the atmosphere was still tense due to the violent race riots. Houses were abandoned and you could see large open spaces in the middle of Hollywood. Ironically, the city felt fresh and full of energy, creativity was everywhere. It is within this context that I met Radha Mitchell, Marc Forster, Camille Waldorf, Udo Kier and most of my friends with whom I still collaborate today. We were driven by the same dreams and shared the same desire to create and reinvent ourselves. Projects got started and developed. Somehow, we survived.
I arrived in Berlin 2002 still at the time when the city was a good playground for artists, a “lab” of unconventional ideas and areas. Like Los Angeles, I experienced Berlin as an uncommon, rough and unique place–much different from any other city I’ve lived in. But what made Berlin so wonderful started to disappear fast. The freedom I felt there vanished over the last 10 years and it was time for me to move.
America, and particularly Southern California, has always fascinated me: the California Dream and its vision of possibilities without restraint. The desert landscape, the light and all the artistic imaging that it has been a stage for, became quickly the background of my photographic experiments. California allowed me to fulfil my greatest dream: the space and the freedom to develop my ideas.
How do you feel living and working in both Berlin and Los Angeles, two very different cultures, has influenced your work?
I spend the winter and spring in California and come back to Berlin for the summer. The cold, grey and long winters in Berlin are over.
Living in two different cities and cultures has influenced my work and life a lot. The creative process takes place in and around the Twentynine Palms–the desert is for me the medium of my photography and films, it is my open air studio. The light and the specificity of the landscape are the perfect combination for my photography. The freedom of the space gives me enough places to think, create and develop the narrative of my work.
Berlin is dedicated to the post production. It is where my photographs are enlarged by hand in my own laboratory, where my films are cut and produced. And of course, it is always pleasure to show my work in Europe (France, Germany, England) in collaboration with galleries.
Your work explores dreamscapes. What is it about dreams and an almost unreal aesthetic that interests you?
The dream allows you to push the limits of the reality, and to create a space where your intimate desires can come true. In a dream, the borders between reality and fiction become blurry, the gestures and motives mysterious, the images seem to evaporate before conclusions can be made. That is what fascinated me. I love to explore and question the frequent coincidences we all find in our own life and the dream rapidly became a recurring topic in my work. I use expired Polaroid films that produce chemical mutations that eventuate to this unreal aesthetic and keeps alive the confusion of dream, fact and fiction.
Do you have a creative process? How do you prepare a concept for a piece of work?
Most of the time I have something like a vision, an image that becomes the spark for a piece of work. Then it depends, everything can go quickly; I’ll find the right setting immediately and do the shooting right away. Sometimes it can take a lot of preparation and research until the set fits my vision. For my films, there is a long period of reflection, of writing and development before I can stand behind the camera. But when I have the camera in my hands, everything has been decided and what may seem to be an accident, a random work, is actually the result of an elaborate process where nothing is left to chance.
When did you first become interested in photography?
Like a lot of things in my life, it happened by chance. Right after my studies, my initial plan was to move to Los Angeles to work in film editing. Great coincidences lead me to a shop who was selling some very cheap expired Polaroid films and without even having a camera for it I bought all of them. The next day I got the camera and went down to the beach with my sister to take some images. That is how everything started, and since then my interest in photography hasn’t stop growing…
What do you think photography offers over other art forms?
With photography, I believe that moments you like to hold onto will never vanish. That instant and felling is captured and will stay with you forever. Photography is, for me, the only medium able to capture tangible beauty.
Many artists and photographers are now opting for film over digital photography. What initially and continues to attract you to film?
Years of film behaviour research have gone into my work, and a digital shot is a lot different than an analog photograph.
When I started using Polaroid film as a medium, the general enthusiasm for the so-called “past” pictures was not a fashion trend as it is now with all the apps we’ve seen appear within the last few years.
The way my artwork is presented is just the way I see the world or would like the world to be seen. My photographs are nostalgic, they remind us of times when things were different.
Your work is incredibly unique, however who are your influences?
It is very exciting to work with creative people… a lot of great artists and friends have influenced my work and life. The list could be long… I think the music of Daisy McCrackin, or my good friend actor Udo Kier who are part of my earliest project supporters. Film makers like Terrence Malick, Gus Van Sant and of course Wim Wenders and Mark Forster have influenced the current direction of my work. However, my work is the result of my own individual aesthetic sense and poetry that belongs to me deeply.
Being quite established in comparison to other artists we’ve previously interviewed, what advice would you give to artists and photographers in particular who are at the start of their career?
My first advice would be: “Work hard and hold on!”
The gained recognition in recent years is the result of intense work and perseverance. I focus all my energy and dedicate all my time to my work. My art project became my life and “vice versa”! There is no separation between my life and art. There is no button to stop the machine (laugh).
You’ve participated in countless exhibitions. What can we expect to see from you in the coming months?
After many months of intense work in the completion of the film “The girl behind the white picket fence”, I took a break to catch my breath.
I’ve just moved my laboratory to a bigger & better location in Berlin and it’s still under construction!
I still have so much to do. I want to focus on the promotion and post production of artworks that have never been shown. I have done so much and what has been seen so far is only a small percentage of my production.
Also, many new ideas are running through my head: why not create my own gallery, meet and expose new artists… I let things come to me and I’ll keep on working.
Photography by Stefanie Schneider