Interview with Laura Schaeffer: ‘Being well prepared gives you the freedom to be spontaneous’
The Berlin-based photographer Laura Schaeffer just recently graduated from the University of Applied Arts in Vienna and already has an impressive portfolio of clients and projects to offer. We had a chat with her about what’s to be found on the camera roll of her phone, how to overcome creative blockades, and her conceptual approach towards photography.
How did you first get into photography??
I think my initial interest was sparked thanks to my mum who back in the day was a journalist at a local newspaper where next to writing, she used to take and develop photos for the stories herself. As she raised me by herself, she often had to bring me to work on the weekends, the silver lining of that being that I got to witness that process. Making images quickly became my favorite pastime because I got to explore some sort of parallel universe to the mundane german small-town surroundings. I eventually decided to pursue photography as a career and got into the University of Applied Arts in Vienna from which I graduated last Summer, moved to Berlin, and have been working as a freelance photographer ever since.
What three words describe your work best?
Soft, surreal, and uncanny.
What role does sketching play in your creative process? / What role does spontaneity play in your work?
I don’t really draw in the traditional sense as I find picking up a pen and drawing on paper extremely limiting and therefor frustrating, so if I sketch, I usually use photoshop to communicate an idea, alongside using mood boards and references. I feel being well prepared gives you the freedom to be spontaneous.
You recently graduated from the University of Applied Arts in Vienna and have already built up an impressive portfolio with significant clients like Nike, Vogue, Highsnobiety, etc. What’s your advice for people who just graduated from art school and want to get started in the art/design world?
Keep doing what you are passionate about and be patient. Success certainly is not a one-way road, you can have months where it’s going incredibly well and then months that are a real struggle, especially now with COVID entering the chat. Everyone has their own pace and their own path and there certainly is no manual for it.
Creative work is known to be accompanied by a lot of questioning and doubts. Where do you find motivation and inspiration to move forward in difficult times?
Acceptance is key, no one can feel inspired 24/7, even though we might like to. I’m a bit of a perfectionist and sometimes put myself under an unrealistic amount of pressure, oftentimes unnecessarily so, which can cause some sort of creative block. What always helps me overcome this, is taking some time for myself, taking a long walk, talking to a friend, watching a good movie, doing something unrelated to unwind. That can help reset and start again where I left off the next day. I’m also incredibly grateful to have friends working in the creative field as well, talking to someone who’s familiar with the struggle and supports you is really helpful.
What kind of pictures would we find on the camera roll of your phone?
A random mix of screenshotted memes scans of receipts for my tax accountant, and some odd mood images I keep collecting.
Could you use the time during lockdown to make some new work or did this strange period block your creative outlet?
I experienced a bit of both, to be honest. At the beginning of lockdown, I started a little self-isolation still life project, to stop myself from constantly checking the news and obsessing about an uncertain future. As reality set in and there were a couple more curveballs thrown my way, I had to slow down and refocus for a bit.
When working with a model, do you, in your photography, enhance character traits of the model, or do you give your models a new imaginary persona?
My approach to photography is quite conceptual, so it really comes down to the particular idea for a shoot. For my diploma, for instance, I worked towards entirely concealing the identity of the person I was photographing, while in other series I do quite the opposite. Sometimes, it can be the combination of both which makes a powerful story. Generally, I don’t like to limit myself by principle, I like to try new things and mix some of my influences.
You have a very diverse choice of models, does your work carry a political message, or are your choices mainly aesthetically motivated?
Representation is extremely important and should not stop with the casting choices. Working with diverse teams is even more adamant in truly achieving the equality we need, especially within the predominantly white and male creative industry. It is on all of us to do the work to do to dismantle the power structures that are designed in favor of the privileged. To me, it is important to photograph people I find inspiring, it is about the person, their movements, their attitude. Confusing diversity as making aesthetic choices is just tokenism.
Is there any dream project or client you would want to work on or with?
I certainly have one or the other magazine or client on my bucket list, and I would have answered these questions entirely different just one year ago. But now, to me, it is more about the work environment than a big name. If a client completely trusts your vision, if you get to work with an amazing team, the outcome will naturally be sublime.
all images (C) Laura Schaeffer
Featured Image + Image 8
co-direction & styling: Jamie-Maree Shipton
make-up: Lyn Weiscz
hair: Yuuki Yanase
models: Karishma Purohit & Nontobeko Mbuyazi
styling assistance: Georgia Russell
styling: Rhianedd Dancey
make-up: Isabel Maria Simoneth
hair: Kosuke Ikeuchi
model: Clara Thorndal
GLAMCULT summer issue 2019
collaboration with Julius Pristauz
Maša Stanić for i-D commissioned by Juule Kay
assisted by Julian Lee-Harather
Image 7 + Image 9
hair&make-up: Naomi Gugler,
Max Artemis assisted by Julian Lee-Harather
styling: Rudolfs Packevics
make-up: Victoria Reuter
hair: Kosuke Ikeuchi
model: Susan Syring