Bastienne Schmidt

Bastienne Schmidt. Photo by Jenny Gorman

The Saint-Petersburg Photographer and Photo Vernissage-2012 present:

Bastienne Schmidt is a multinational photographer: born in Germany, she grew up in Greece and Italy, and lives now in the United States. Starting with documentary projects, Bastienne Schmidt turned to art photography and integrated it while combining drawing, photos and film footage.

She talked with the correspondent of ‘The Saint-Petersburg Photographer’ Irina Bilik about her process of creativity and cultural identity.

— Bastienne, your life and work are characterized by the word «multi»: multiple countries, languages, cultures, means of different artistic expressions and different social roles. How do you identify in terms of ethnicity, culture and art? Does multiculturalism play a role in your in your work?

— You are right on target. I always feel being part of more than one place. I was born in Germany, grew up in Greece, Italy and the United States, and everywhere, I feel that I am somewhat different: I can see things from one side or the other, even here in America where I lived for 20 years. From my point of view, the artist and the photographer have an enormous advantage — to be able to watch from a bit of a distance. This changes the perspective and increases the intuitive process in terms of understanding culture as a phenomenon. Of course, it is very important to me to feel a connection with the land, culture, and at the same time I love to travel — to explore and understand different cultures.

— You create a collage based on several means of artistic expression, such as with drawings, paintings and photography. Does this mean that one is not enough to convey the idea? Or is it the idea of ‘intermediality‘ an appeal to other art forms to create additional meanings?

— I studied painting and photography simultaneously in Italy, and for me to work with a variety of media is in fact one and the same process. This is probably the same phenomenon as belonging to different cultures, which finds reflection in my artistic vision and philosophy in general. It is sometimes difficult, because people are trying to perceive you into in a specific kind of framework, all clearly distinguished. And for me it’s always more than one thing. Of course, I have also purely photographic projects, but when I feel the need to add other technique and process to it, I will do it.

— Are you inspired by classical painting? In what a way?

— I think, first of all I pay a lot of attention to the construction of the composition. Cultural knowledge, as such has become part of all of us, especially today, and I try to emphasize this with my photography. My creativity is inextricably linked to the knowledge of art history and playing with its cultural meanings, referencing it to other works of art. In the series ‘Home Stills’ my photos are often associated with the paintings of Edward Hopper, his characters, who stand alone against the backdrop of a natural or urban landscape.

Bastienne Schmidt

© Bastienne Schmidt. The ‘Still’ series

— Previously, you were doing documentary photography, and preferred black and white. Why do you work in color? How does color change your vision?

— It’s true , for a long time I photographed exclusively in black and white, and I think that’s how I saw the world and I did not want to change the perception. The change occurred after the birth of my two children, I suddenly realized that I didn’t need to choose between black and white and color. Color and monochrome — they are only tools, depending on what thoughts or ideas one wants to express. It’s just another artistic language. Many photographers claim that color distracts from the fact, but then black and white is also deliberate in narrowing the boundaries of perception, to the exclusion of something important. Color and black and white — they are two different answers to the same question. It is important to remember that a photograph in color or black and white, can convey something totally different. Most black and white photographs possess a beautiful melancholy, whereas color as a phenomenon seems to shout.

I compose colors very carefully. This series ‘Home Stills’ was shot in color, the entire project is staged photography. I came upon it almost as a composer — by building an image, first mentally, then in reality.

— In this series the heroine is faceless. Who is the main character?

— I am both the object and the subject. But at the same time, the series is not about self-portraiture. This is an attempt to relate oneself with all women. Depicting the heroine from the back, I’m trying to introduce an observer into the world. Modern pop culture has created a certain image of women, puts them in a framework, as they existed in the 30s, 40s and 50s, and for me a kind of dramatization of different situations in which a woman may behave differently, go beyond the framework, have her own space for thought and imagination. There is a Wim Wenders reference in it from his film ‘Paris Texas’, where the hero steps out of the picture. That’s what I wanted to show: that a woman can step out her world, and then maybe come back. I think it’s important for our society to reflect upon: that a woman has freedom.

— Your character is detached, even if it is surrounded by children…

— It’s a freezing of a frame of an imaginary movie, like some sort of action was going on, and you have chosen at a point to stop the film. The resulting silence refers to the paintings of Edward Hopper.

— Are there, in your view, any specific characteristics of women’s pictures?

— I do not think it’s right to necessarily label the work as such. I worked on a documentary project on the funeral rites in Latin America for 5 years , maybe subconsciously proving to myself that I can be as tough as a man. We, women, can do the same work as men — even go to war and photograph in dangerous situations. On the other hand we as women can take pictures of what’s happening in our own home, this can be as interesting and profound. There is no need to apply labels such as ‘women’s work’ and ‘women’s books’ in literature. A Women’s book — is a book foremost and our society must learn how to objectively evaluate these phenomena.

Bastienne Scmidt’s website

Home Stills, Bastienne Schmidt published by Jovis ISBN 978-3-86859-069-2 in 2010
Shadowhome, Bastienne Schmidt published by Jovis  in 2004
American Dreams, Bastienne Schmidt published by Stemmle in 1997
Vivir la Muerte, Bastienne Schmidt published by Stemmle in 1996

Interview by Irina Bilik,
The Saint-Petersburg Photographer, 2012

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