American Polaroid

 

FrŽdŽrique Chapuis, TŽlŽrama Sortir No. 3119, October 21, 2009

 

The German artist Stefanie Schneider has chosen California as the sole subject of her Polaroids, which she reproduces in a large-scale format.

Stefanie Schneider has a somewhat hippyish, cool allure recalling the adolescents who took to the streets in 1968, the year of her birth. Long blond hair casually bound behind her back, round eyeglasses, a white cotton frock over loose-fitting jeans and, as a sole element of fantasy, large high-heeled shoes and pink stockings. Forthcoming by nature, she is more than happy to tell about her life. With regard to her childhood spent alongside the sea in a small town of Germany, she delights in recalling the many hours spent in exploring the surroundings or in building a hut with the neighborhood kids on the grounds of the high-rise apartment complex. This freedom comes to an end when, at the age of seven, she enters school. It is only in 1995, when she lands in California with her boyfriend and discovers the immensity of the landscape that, all of a sudden, she rediscovers this profound sense of liberty. At the Los Angeles flea market, she happens upon a stock of out-of-date Polaroid film and purchases a camera to go along with it. This chance occurrence is a genuine revelation for Stefanie Schneider, who has just completed her studies in communication and design in Essen and is uncertain of what direction to take next. At the beach she tries out the material for the first time and realizes that these haphazard chemical reactions reveal with a peculiar precision the universe which she has secretly harbored ever since childhood. As a young girl, she adored American films and the accompanying dream. One of them will become deeply fixed in her imagination: Days of Heaven, by Terrence Malick. Some of the atmosphere of the filmmaker may be discovered right from the very first shots, where the result proves to be poetical, more pictorial than photographic. She cultivates soft tones and deep mysteriousness when she introduces her protagonists into vast stretches of desert, only to suggest elsewhere, with the luminous sign of a motel, the kitsch of American culture. She decides that henceforth it will be California where she will take her pictures. But it is in Berlin that she sets up her laboratory, where she herself creates large prints on the basis of a photographic reproduction of the original Polaroid. In conformance with her solitary nature, she is unwilling to entrust to anyone else the making of these prints, especially since her work, appreciated by a good number of gallerists and museum curators, has come to provide her with a certain renown. She says that she looks forward to the project of making a film, after having tried her hand at "Polaroid movies." And if tomorrow all this were to come to an end?

She would then take up the cause of the whales or would cultivate a garden, but in an artistic manner! Because, she explains, "I am an artist; that is the only way for me to live!"