Instant Images


Stefanie Schneider's cinematic photos play with the hidden depths

 of Hollywood clichŽs - a show in Mannheim


Markus Clauer, Die Rheinpfalz, March 3, 2006



Stefanie Schneider is most certainly that German artist who currently sells the most works - for example, in the photo-edition gallery "lumas." Now the Mannheim space "Zephr" is presenting Stefanie Schneider's typically cinematic photo series entitled Wasteland.

The desert, vast Californian expanses, shimmering light, a mythically charged somewhere only a few hours distant from Los Angeles by car. David Lynch territory, with which one is familiar without ever having been there. Gas stations, motels, highways, tracks of dust, trademarks like signs of an attitude towards life which can be summoned up at any time. Wasteland, crossed by a solitary railroad track; tilted telegraph poles silhouetted lopsidedly against the horizon. A scene befitting men with bare chests and revolvers, cowboy figures. And designed for women with glittering hot pants, gaudy wigs, call-girl accessories, and a lackluster melancholy: entangled in stories loaded with sex, violence and tenderness. Stefanie Schneider's blown-up Polaroids―shot as with half-closed eyes, risquŽ, jazzy, spooky and dreamlike, even nightmarish―resemble faded and second-hand memories, Hollywood film-clichŽs whose superficiality has become porous. DŽjˆ-vus with patina. Stefanie Schneider's photos almost always seem like cinematic stills. The images of the photographic artist, who was born in 1968 in Cuxhaven and studied at the Folkwang School in Essen, quite frequently refer to film titles. Sometimes they show persons who subsequently embarked on successful careers, such as Rada Mitchell, who filmed Melinda and Melinda with Woody Allen, but who earlier played improvised roles in Stefanie Schneider's photos.

29 Palms CA is doubtlessly the most famous photo series of the artist. It appeared in 1999, with a same-named film in 2002. it is as if she borrows images and thereby gains access to American culture, such as it is perceived in the current framework of the media. A playing with appearance and reality, an image of how images arise.

What is astounding is that there has been a return to film by these painterly images oscillating between cinema, photography and British Pop-Art. In Stay, the latest work by Marc Forster (Monster's Ball), an expressionistic psychodrama in which the Hollywood stars Ian McGregor and Naomi Watts play the main roles, Stefanie Schneider's Polaroids flash forth hundreds of times in the dream sequences and memories.

Director Marc Forster has been a friend of Stefanie Schneider for many years. In her case her own life, love and sex are combined  through chance occurrence into art. Coincidence is the principle embraced by the artist, who lives in Los Angeles and Berlin. Her own career as well is based on a simple random event. In 1996 she discovered in a store on Sunset Boulevard three boxes, each containing sixty Polaroid films whose expiration date had passed. At the time, she was working as a cutter in L.A. She had more or less forgotten the photography which she had studied. She didn't even own a Polaroid camera.

The next day, however, she bought one and went with her sister to the beach. Venice Beach saw the creation of twenty photos with a wondrous originality and mysticism, clouded over by overexposures and peppered with photo-technical mishaps―the images are generated by the chance occurrence to which the scroungy material gives rise. The colors are undefined, the blondness is fuzzily outlined, and aspects of depth are uncovered, as if something were surfacing out of the unconscious. At a film reception she meets a woman gallerist who discovers for the art market her randomly-created Venice Beach Polaroids. The rest unfolds automatically.

Polaroids are today an anachronism and can no longer be purchased, but in art they have a tradition going back to Andy Warhol. He often photographed himself or had himself photographed. Stefanie Schneider as well is repeatedly part of her vague stagings and minimalistically narrated episodes. She often hands the camera over to others. If her photos have a theme, then it is being underway as in the case of Kerouac. Her art is also her life, and apparently she thereby hits upon a particular mood.

She once had a lonely-hearts ad appear in the New Yorker. She originally intends to travel with seven male strangers into the desert, and to photograph what happens there. She takes up contact per e-mail with three unknown persons. She observes one of them around the clock with a web cam, into the most remote corners of intimacy. One of them travels with her in a Cadillac. The former preacher J.D. Rudometkin is an actor, makes films, writes stories. The two of them move into a trailer, have sex; during the night, he writes a short story which they stage photographically the next day, Sidewinder. This gives rise to a book and a short film, with his music and her pictures.

Also the series Wasteland, which may be seen in Mannheim, has to do with a sexually charged and precarious situation between man and woman―Stefanie Schneider herself, in a Wim Wenders landscape. Short sentences relate that, in "her" valley, she encounters Randy, who had wanted to film a Western. And everything changed. She was happy at first. Randy flew away in his helicopter. She herself left. So much happens in the pictures. No more. Each viewer becomes a screenplay-writer. The catalogue book and the exhibition, by the way, are dedicated to "Lance." The man in the photos is not Lance, but the one whom Stefanie Schneider left for Lance after fifteen years of love. She met the new lover by chance at an open-air cinema in Berlin.

The exhibition continues until April 30, Tuesdays through Sundays 1:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. Address: C4.9 in Mannheim. The film "Stay" is running at the Odeon in Mannheim.