Fashion photography and wildlife photography are such distinctly different genres that to imagine the two together in a single frame, one must attempt to reconcile the paradoxical imagery of fashion models in glamorous urban studios against the thrilling scenes of wild beasts in their natural habitats. Any photographer who attempts to merge these two subjects must carry within a certain wildness of the heart that allows him to woo subjects—both human and animal—with a powerful charm. Kristian Schmidt, a Grammy®-nominated music video-director-turned-photographer who also has been called "arguably the funniest photographer on the face of the earth," exercised all his imaginative and charismatic forces to create the spectacular series of fashion and wildlife photographs in his exhibition Audacity, which Duggal helped produce for him at Milk Studios in New York City earlier this summer.
The passion and wildness oozing out of photographs in Audacity are a direct reflection of Schmidt’s unique worldview formed from an eclectic childhood. He was born in New York, grew up between Paris and Sweden, then moved to Japan to create music videos and TV shows 15 years ago. Despite being a complete outsider in Japan, Schmidt gained tremendous notoriety for his Grammy®-nominated music videos, films and Japanese comedy shows.
Says Schmidt, "Since my background is so diverse, it really is Tokyo that has sculpted my style and brought all my inspiration; it’s much more edgy and animation-like than anything else."
Unlike most photographers who transition from still to motion imagery, Schmidt turned from music videos to still photography, gaining quick ground as a fashion photographer with a flair for the extraordinary. He started traveling frequently to South Africa for his fashion shoots, where he came in close proximity to elephants, leopards and monkeys in the wild. The thrill of crawling up to a lion or the possibility of getting charged by elephants struck a deep chord with Schmidt’s wild sensibilities.
He decided to bring his fashion models in close contact with animals in the wild to create a novel body of work for Audacity. Schmidt describes Audacity as "a show inspired by the metaphor of a lioness hunting with no regard for personal safety, with an audacity that shows absolute power to do anything it takes to get its kill." Relating this parallel of audacity in the animal world to the fashion world, he juxtaposes breathtakingly beautiful models with animals in shots that capture an intimate dialogue between the two subjects. Some years ago, a photographer named Gregory Colbert created Ashes and Snow, which showed a similar sensibility in shooting animals and people in spiritual closeness with one another. Inspired by that work, Schmidt blurs the spiritual and physical boundaries between fashion and wildlife, photographing moments that evoke the possibility of peaceful cohabitation between man and animal, and nudges us to reflect upon the need to restore and maintain natural habitats in which these wild beasts flourish.
The larger-than-life vision of Schmidt’s Audacity series inevitably had to be matched by an equally grand exhibition design that presented each image as a work of art, conservation and entertainment. Schmidt sent us a disc full of his images and left everything from there on—testing for color, resolution, size, choosing final print materials and mounting structures—for the Duggal team to decide. Since Schmidt is a true globetrotter, working with him meant being in touch with him across multiple time zones and making virtual decisions. Andrea Tamburello and Al Kamhi, who work closely with artists in our company, coordinated this effort, surveying the gallery space, coordinating the details of printing each one of his 40 pieces and choosing appropriate mounting structures within an extraordinarily tight, two-week production timeline. We even designed extra modular walls to create more space in the gallery to adequately show all of Schmidt’s 40 images and created the lighting plan to highlight each photograph. We chose a metallic photographic material to complement the uniqueness of his works. We mounted and frontlit each piece in such a manner that it gave the impression of being lit through backlit lightboxes. The largest piece in the show at 12 feet wide by three feet high was hung directly from the ceiling. Another large piece was printed as a giant canvas stretched on a custom wood frame.
Five hundred people turned up at the opening of Audacity, including an appearance by Isabella Rossellini. Everyone seemed absolutely mesmerized by the photographs. Schmidt describes his favorite picture in the show as the one of the model Olga and the chimpanzee sitting at a bar counter: "The atmosphere of that shot is a lucky catch; they were both in tune, and you could feel it."
Schmidt shoots with Canon EOS 5Ds and EOS-1Ds Mark IIIs. He describes the feeling of seeing his digital images on large printed pieces as "highly fulfilling, and the reason I do the exhibits. The sharpness of the image can be deceiving on the screen, so I choose Duggal because they always give you the best quality possible for your print. Working with Duggal is a dream come true; they go above and beyond to make your project come to life. My gratitude is endless."
I remain forever grateful to photographers like Schmidt who allow us to push our aesthetic and imaginative capabilities. The mesmerizing beauty of the works and the success of the exhibition aside, I choose to take the most important thing Schmidt communicates through his works. "Life is very, very short," he says. "I try to show everyone how incredible it is out there, off the beaten path, and inspire to make them travel and do things out of the ordinary before time has run out."
Elliott Erwitt once said of photographers: "I don’t know many photographers and I’m not terribly interested in them. I find them terribly serious in a very boring way. I don’t like to be serious." Schmidt is the very opposite of someone who takes himself too seriously. Says Erwitt, "I love Schmidt’s photos for the alternate universe that they portray that is, in fact, his reality. He really does spend afternoons playing in the California surf dressed as a chicken, getting as close as possible to a lion on safari in South Africa…for the sake of capturing a moment that not everyone has the chance to experience. Through his lens, the viewer gets a glimpse of what it would be like to jump down the rabbit hole and see where it goes…."
Now this is the kind of photographer who would be fun to follow. For those of you interested, Schmidt is documenting the "insanity of his productions" for a film, which can be previewed on his website, thekristianworld.com.