"I don‘t really like the word beauty, because what is beauty essentially?" opined photographer, Laura Schaeffer,"It is a hollow word, as it can be a myriad of things, depending on who you‘re asking." Schaeffer has an unfamiliar artistic voice, it disrupts conventional aesthetics and intrigues the curious observer sparking deeper conversations about how society conceives all that is 'beautiful.' Equality and empathy are dominant values portrayed in Schaeffer's work. When asked about her dreams for the future, her initial thoughts turn toward the betterment of the world from action on climate change to society's acceptance of key human differences including race, religion, and gender. She manifests her sociological views and the difference she covets into her art which then explodes our understanding of contemporary fashion and beauty.
Female Hercules: What are some memories you have of the solidification of your early work as it was developing that felt like a pivotal moment?
Laura Schaeffer: I believe there was no particular moment as such, it was rather through finding people I could connect to and build a great (working) relationship with, as I‘m definitely a team player. Having a bunch of people each of who are amazing at what they do come together to create is what really takes it to the next level.
2. What areas of photography do you still find challenging? How do you see yourself evolving?
Well, I actually do like projects that are challenging in one way or the other, since these usually result in the most growth. I try to constantly push myself to try something different and perfect my craft. I believe that you learn heaps from each single shoot, no matter how much experience you have under your belt and that is a good thing, never cease to learn and evolve.
3. Where are some places you spent time as a child that shaped your vision?
Growing up with a single mom struggling to make ends meet, I did not have a lot of opportunities to travel. So it was essentially more about escapism and the places I dreamed of visiting rather than the ones I had actually visited.
4. How formative is trusting your intuition when making art versus having a planned product/message to create?
I like to be as prepared as I can for every shoot, as I feel it gives me an advantage, but in the end, I‘m very intuitive when it comes to working. And I believe you need to be, since there will always be parameters that you cannot control, so you need to be able to improvise and turn it out no matter what.
5. Some of the styling in your shots make the model look quite vicious. For example, the provocative contact lenses in the Auris Ku series and the painted face in the FIAKERMILLI series. Is this thematic continuity a conscious choice?
It certainly is a conscious choice, although I would not refer to them as vicious looking.To me, it is simply a shift from what one would expect, a disruption of some sort of conventional aesthetics shaped by the male gaze, which dictates what women have to look like. So rather than reproducing a cliché of what is traditionally perceived as beautiful, I‘m trying to shift the narrative.
6. Why is it important for you to incorporate humor into your work as a photographer?
I think it‘s an important reminder, also to myself since I‘m quite an anxious person, not to take life too seriously, after all, everything we do is so trivial in the grand scheme of things. Humor can be liberating and help you let go.
7. How do you feel about people taking your photo? What is the vulnerability of the photographer as opposed to the vulnerability of the subject?
I believe there‘s a good reason why photography is often referred to as somewhat predatory. You make yourself vulnerable when in front of a camera, because you allow the person behind it to see you in ways you could never see yourself, so essentially, you give away control. I always try to be aware of that and be as respectful as I can, since it is important to establish an amount of trust in order for everyone to feel comfortable.
8. How much of inner beauty can be expressed in a photograph? Is photography merely a figment of your imagination or do you believe it holds truth?
First of all, I don‘t really like the word beauty, because what is beauty essentially? It is a hollow word, as it can be a myriad of things, depending on who you‘re asking. To me it is some sort of parallel reality, it holds some truth, as it is always a record of a moment that has actually happened. It can of course be tampered with, heightened and stylised to a degree that it might nearly be unrecognizable, but that never changes what lies at its source.
9. Is there anything you know now that you wish you could have told yourself at the beginning of your career?
Trust in your skill, be patient and don‘t compare yourself to others.
10.What are your hopes and dreams for the future?
Well first of all, I hope our government officials will finally realize the threat climate change poses to all life on this planet and act accordingly. Also, I wish society would finally stop ostracizing people on the basis of race, gender, sexual orientation, religion or class. As for me, I wouldn‘t mind being able to do what I love while sustaining a living solely from it.