Phebe Schmidt is a Melbourne based photographer that has all the newest labels in her clientele including brands such as W.I.A Collections and Odd Pears. Schmidt challenges the viewer by juxtaposing the clean sleek look of commercial photography with subject matter that hold a darker undertone. She entices us with her pastel backdrops and stylized imagery while simultaneously challenging the viewer with the subject matter presented. Naturally, we had a few questions regarding her work and creative process.
At what age did you start connecting with feminist ideals?
I can’t pin down an age I started to connect or rather begin to understand feminist ideals. I do remember being taught about the feminist movement in primary school and how women have come so far for equal rights. Growing up I realized women are not as equal as we were originally led to believe in school. There are definitely feminist qualities to my work but that’s not why I make it.
You use a significant amount of objects in your work, talk us through this process?
I find using objects in my work is an effective way to communicate a common theme or thread. I tend to extract the life-like qualities from my subjects whether they are animate or inanimate, creating dark and disturbing undertones. I position the object as if conceptualized for an advertisement - my intention is that on second glance the viewer’s attention is drawn to an element that is not quite right, a melting block of cheese or an oddly shaped mannequin bust for instance.
Any musical influences that connect with your work?
I enjoy listening to music while shooting, I’m not sure if this has a direct impact on my work or not.
What is your favorite book?
At the moment my favorite book is The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch by Philip K. Dick
What makes a quality image stand out from the rest?
I think the quality of an image is mostly dependent on the viewer - if it is dynamic enough to leave a lasting impression naturally it will stand out from the rest.
How do you communicate what you're feeling and seeing within your photos?
Mainly I try to communicate what I feel and see when I look at a stock standard advertisement, when you look at them you feel a sense of lack - which makes you want to buy the product. I use similar lighting schemes to popular photo advertisements that are hyperreal and bright but then offset the image with something like a smile that’s too broad, or sweat or tears – drawing attention to both the perfection and the imperfection inherent in the image.
What type of camera gear do you use?
I shoot with a full frame digital camera (Nikon D800), I tether to a computer while shooting - I find this is a useful tool whether I am working for a client or not. I have a studio where I shoot all my work using studio lighting.
How would you describe yourself as a photographer?
I am quite meticulous when planning shoots - I aim to have each shot planned out, the props I will be using, the lighting set up and the expression I want from the model. Whether I am working for a client or not I enjoy gathering reference images putting together mood boards and storyboards. Often when creating my own work however, I have time to be more experimental and improvisational as I have more time to put together a composition.
If you could only show two images from this year, 2014, which ones would they be?
A photograph I shot for The Lifted Brow of a woman stuck in a massage chair and an image of musician Sui Zhen titled Secretly Susan where she has a number of mixed materials stuck to her face, like a mask. Not surprisingly these are relatively recent shoots - I tend to become fixated on my recent shoots and critique my past shoots more harshly.
What's been the best advice you've been given as a photographer?
I don’t have to choose between fine art and commercial photography.
I know Star Trek serves as a big inspiration to you, both for it's aesthetics and surrounding environments, so I have to ask... what is your favorite Star Trek moment?
Oh boy that’s tough, one of my favorite moments is probably in the episode Captain’s Holiday when Captain Picard reluctantly agrees to take a vacation at Risa (a pleasure planet). The saucy moment when we see Picard not just as a captain but as a total sex symbol - is in his bathers, eyebrow raised, chest hair showing with the afternoon sun in his face, is unlike any other.