The Chemistry of Coincidence


Stefanie Schneider's psychedelic Polaroid art has even inspired Hollywood. In the thriller Stay, her pictures issue an invitation to a wandering journey between dream and reality.


Silke Bender, Deutsch, 03/17/06 p.42-44



The new film Stay by Marc Forster, whose masterpiece Monster's Ball brought an Oscar to Halle Berry and whose Finding Neverland featuring Johnny Depp was nominated for seven Oscars, remains mysterious right up to the final minute. With his new psycho-thriller, which celebrated its premiere at this year's Berlin Film Festival, Forster reaches deep into the recesses of the unconscious. A psychiatrist (Ewan McGregor), an artist (Naomi Watts), and an art student (newcomer Ryan Gosling) play a trio whose loose points of connection first oscillate between dream and reality, future and past, in ominous threads which finally come together with an accident on the Brooklyn Bridge in New York. Mulholland Drive by David Lynch is called to mind.

The aesthetic bracket for this optically impressive film is furnished by the photographic art of Stefanie Schneider, who loans her works to the film artist Naomi Watts and thereby ingeniously complements the nightmarish scenery.

The photo artist, who lives in Berlin and Los Angeles, is a sort of shooting star in the art scene, and also the representative of a new type of market, for she is the first artist who owes her popularity to the "cheap" photo gallery Lumas. Her Californian myths, which she transfers onto long-expired Polaroid film, are the top-selling items of the gallery, which in the past two years has opened successful branches in Berlin, Hamburg, Munich and DŸsseldorf―soon also in Paris and New York. The principle of the gallery is simple: Just like the credo of the established art publisher Taschen, great art is offered in extensive editions of 75 to 200 copies. Thus everyone can become the collector of hand-signed works by famous artists such as JŸrgen Teller, Thomas Ruff, Martin Parr, Candida Hšfer or Nan Goldin. Lumas thereby in its own way revolutionizes and democratizes an art market which up to now has been highly elitist―not without harsh criticism on the part of traditional galleries which fear for their highly remunerative sinecures. Stefanie Schneider once numbered among the secret tips of this portfolio. Today everyone in the scene knows of her. Impressive publications around the globe are listed in her resume and cause the cash register to buzz. Stefanie Schneider has already sold more than 1,000 pictures through Lumas―at between 100 and 400 Euro apiece. How did it all begin? The graduate of the photography class at the Folkwangschule in Essen quickly becomes bored with her field. Focal distance, exposure meters and lens apertures are not her cup of tea. She much prefers to spend hours with her former boyfriend, the film student Dominik Faix, bent over in the editing room and brooding about evocative montages. In 1996, upon completing their studies, they both decide to go to L.A.―the dream destination for everyone involved in film-making. Stefanie's luggage: in her head nothing more than the mythical images from dozens of California road movies from the Seventies, and 8,000 marks in her pocket. In the deserts around Los Angeles, they found the real backdrops for their dream of freedom and yearning. Motels, diners, gas stations, endless roads and desolate trailer parks. And since the German-speaking community in L.A. is small, she quickly received her first portrait commission as a photographer. Then in a photo store she got hold of rolls of expired and hence actually worthless Polaroid film―at fifty cents apiece. She tried the film out with a Captiva Polaroid camera. "A revelation!" she rhapsodizes today. "That was exactly the expressivity that I had always looked for in photography." The spontaneous character of the Polaroid, she says, avoids precisely what she has always hated about photography―its calculated and staged aspect. Instead of that―incalculable streaks of color, smears, color distortions, holes. In orange, blue, or whatever. No picture resembles another. The chemistry of chance occurrence takes over the direction. But before this discovery was transformed into art, a little time was necessary.

It was first a Wim Wenders reception given by the legendary Frances Schšnberger, at that time the pivotal point of the German network in Los Angeles, which gave the matter the necessary impulse. There she became acquainted with the director Marc Forster, who was of German origin, had grown up in Switzerland, and back then was more or less unknown. She did the set photos for his first film which gained attention, Everything put together, and which won the audience prize at the Sundance Film Festival. This explains Stefanie's leading role in his most recent film. And she met the German general consul, who was planning an exhibition of German artists at his house. Stefanie showed her small Polaroid pictures of the beach. "That's it! Make something big out of it," exclaimed a female curator. And Stefanie began to develop an appropriate reproduction technique―along with general story-lines. A synthesis arose between photography and her passion for films.

With an old-timer convertible borrowed from Marc Forster, a Buick Skylark from the Seventies, the actress Radha Mitchell (from Woody Allen's Melinda and Melinda), a female rock musician, and a pile of costumes and wigs from a cheap costume shop for strippers on Hollywood Boulevard, she drove into the desert and shot her first candy-colored, white-trash series, which staged both the American Dream and its nightmarish aspect. These images had the impact of cinematic sequences and felt like utterly personal photos of recollection from an old photo album.

In the psycho-thriller Stay as well, Schneider's art wanders like a recurrent theme through a nightmarish series of events. Again and again, these magical snapshots flash forth as mental images, as hallucination, as puzzle pieces from an unhinged reality in which the levels of past, dream and present become increasingly blurred amid each other.

Her next project: a further collaboration with Marc Forster. A sort of Polaroid movie, of course strictly independent. Here her photographic art, quickly edited and containing sequences from too-long-stored, defective Super-8 film, will tell a story and thereby finally bring into contact what belongs together according to Stefanie Schneider's vision: film and photo.

The film "Stay" is currently running in cinemas. Moreover, Stefanie Schneider's works may be viewed at the gallery "Zephr" in Mannheim and at the Galerie Robert Drees in Hannover. The catalogue "Wasteland" appears in the Edition Braus.

Artist website:,