Pushing for acceptance and equality, photographer Laura Schaeffer discusses her impactful practice
The Berlin-based photographer opens up about her experiences in an unequal, male-dominated industry.
- Ayla Angelos
- 3 July 2020
“I think my initial interest was sparked thanks to my mum,” explains Berlin-based Laura Schaeffer, who was first introduced to photography by her journalist mother. “Next to writing, she used to take and develop photos for the stories herself.” Alongside this, her mother raised her alone and, often, she would have to bring her to work on the weekends. “The silver lining,” Laura continues, “is that I got to witness the process.”
Following in her mother’s steps, Laura started making her own photographs which quickly evolved into her favourite pastime. “I got to explore some sort of parallel universe to the mundane German small town surroundings,” she adds, explaining how this was the moment she’d decided to pursue photography as a career. Then, having graduated last summer from University of Applied Arts in Vienna, Laura moved to Germany and has been working as a freelance photographer since.
After hearing a little more on her background, it seems inevitable that photography would be a part of Laura's life. Perhaps it was her mother’s influence, or the fact that she’s always been intrigued by the medium – she reminds herself of a time during her childhood where she was “sneaking around” with her mum’s camera. “Needless to say,” she continues, “there were a lot of doubts initially, internally as well as externally.” Doubt is something that comes naturally with the creative industry, yet teamed with a discouraging English teacher that tried to talk her out of pursuing it as a career because she was a woman, of course there are going to be some hurdles. “It might not be the easiest profession to succeed in, and the fact that structural sexism and racism is so deeply rooted within many cultural institutions certainly doesn’t help,” says Laura. “But if you’re passionate about something, you should pursue it no matter what your gender, race, class or background.”
Now working confidently in her medium, Laura boasts a client list filled with brands such as Ace & Tate, Ellesse, Nike, Samsung, and publications such as Coeval, Glamcult, Highsnobiety, i-D, Vogue Italia and Sleek. Despite only being a year into her career since graduation, her portfolio is effortlessly accomplished and features an array of staged studio shoots and fashion editorials – all of which are sprinkled with a subtle hint of surrealism. “I’m usually drawn to the off and eerie, the uncanny valley of things” Laura says of the projects that she likes to embark on. “I like to go beyond the expected and slightly shift the narrative.”
The supernatural is an element that she likes to explore throughout her work. An example of which can be seen in her recent personal project, Face Off. Favoured not just for the imagery, Laura points out how it was the “learning curve” that she thinks of fondly. “It is based on quite a bit of research and has several layers which add to its complexity,” she explains of the series. Aiming to present the human physical appearance in a different light, she turned to her camera to create these “human sculptures”. As such, you see phosphorescent colours and shapes mark the frame, while her subject’s identity remains hidden from the viewer. Anonymity is key throughout this project; inspired by the theories of Judith Butler for her claims that a person’s identity is “performative and therefore doesn’t rely solely on factors such as genetics of social background”, plus Walter Benjamin who views skin as a fabric and clothing as a second skin. In turn, Laura resonated with these theories and decided to incorporate them throughout her work.
“I started out by depriving my subjects of some of their distinctive features to see the effect these masking tropes have on both subject and viewer,” she says. “My intention here was to take emphasis away from parameters like race, gender class as well as age, in order to create some sort of utopia for the individual.”
The subject, in this case, plays a vital role in the imagery that Laura hopes to present to the world. She sees the role of a photographer as one that has responsibility, especially that of diversity: “I have the ability and responsibility to influence these choices at least in part, so it is important to me to make informed and conscious decisions,” she concludes. “We often just get to see one point of view within this male dominated industry, when in fact there are so many others that need to be seen. Visual media has quite the impact on our culture, and I’m certain that there is something that each and every one of us can contribute to for more acceptance and diversity within the creative industries and elsewhere.”
About the Author
Ayla is currently covering Jenny as It’s Nice That’s online editor. She has spent nearly a decade as a journalist, and covers a range of topics including photography, art and graphic design. Feel free to contact Ayla with any stories or new creative projects.