“As a photographer, you have a style that comes from your perspective on life, your history, and I believe that people can only see as much as they have experienced. It is all about sharing perspectives.” The 22-year-old Swiss photography student Celina Schroeder continuously works on expanding her horizons by finding new perspectives. After a year in Australia, she became a student at Willem de Kooning Academy of the Arts: Fine Arts with a focus on Photography, where she is now a second-year student. I had a conversation with her at Hostel Room to learn more about her projects.
When did you begin taking pictures?
My father had a friend with a camera that I would always borrow. While the adults were talking, I would wander around the house and take pictures. If my family went on walks, I would also bring the camera and capture my surroundings. At that time, I was really caught by the challenge to find order in the nature around me and to capture it with my camera.
As a child you focused on landscapes and nature, how has that evolved?
“I think I was actually very attracted to the idea of photographing people, but I was far too shy to ask permission, let alone take the picture. That’s one of the reasons I focused on landscapes and nature. During my studies at Willem de Kooning, I created several projects that forced me out of my comfort zone, and I developed the courage to take photographs of individuals. I’m not a photographer that stages things only, I am really interested in portraits, but what I seek is the interaction between the photographer and the subjects of the subjects itself. I especially love as well when the audience and my work interact with each other, creating a project that resonates with the audience, to ask questions, to get to know insights. I want people to get something out of it as well.
Can you tell me more about some of your most recent projects?
A while back, I found albums and albums of pictures I took as a kid, that my mother kept at home. Looking through them it made me wonder about the child’s perspective, so I started a research project. I wanted to get back into a kid’s perspective on the world. Originally, I tried crawling around with my camera, trying to imitate the angles I saw from my childhood pictures. I really did my best but it was completely unauthentic. I think my eye is already too trained, it was too aesthetic already. To find authenticity, I gave cameras to a group of kids. However, this was only a pre-stage to the end of the project. Because in the meanwhile, I also read some literature of the Swiss Psychoanalyst Alice Miller, which analyses family constellations and the role kids have to take given the circumstances. This analytical text inspired me so I created my end result: images of different family constellations, and then let the audience comment on the results. I used these as a research tool, comparing them to the images that I took as a child. This was part of one of my expositions. I wasn’t looking to define a ‘universal child’s eye’, but I had this curiosity, and I needed to get out of my own mind. I learned a lot about myself by forcing myself out of my perspective.
Another project that I have was an exhibition entitled “What is Healthy”, based on a text that I wrote almost a year ago. This was a very intense time for me as I was severely physically injured. After an abusive experience, I was shattered, in more ways than one, and reflected on the fragility of our bodies and minds. This made me reflect on what ‘being healthy’ meant to me, which in essence was being in balance with yourself, taking care of yourself early enough. From this text, I made a series of photographs. My first step was to ask a fellow student to photograph my scars in the WDKA studio. I nicknamed this phase the “scar-hunt”. I then began looking for ‘scars’ in my surroundings, be it a scratch in a wooden floor, a bit of stone chipped off a wall, a faded graffiti… Echoes of my own injuries. I then combined this to nature shots with similar patterns. I presented the end result first, in front of professors, then at a Photo Festival in Schiedam, and finally at The Attent in the South of Rotterdam. Next, it will be exposed in the Radio 4TNG on two floors above the head office in Switzerland. The exact address is Hegifeldstrasse 1A, 8404 Winterthur.
When the exposition was in Rotterdam, I added an extra element, a walk through Rotterdam during which I would read segments of the “What is health” text at designated locations before arriving at the exposition hall. It was a guided tour of sorts, starting from the Maas Tunnel, and heading to the South of Rotterdam. I would sometimes ask different members of the audience to read the segment. Every paper read would be left along the way to pass on the message. The text is as follows:
In both projects, you mentioned involving other photographers, such as the children or your fellow student. Is this a regular occurrence, or a fixed step in your creative process?
It isn’t a regular occurrence but I do really find it useful to involve different perspectives in my work. It helps to get out of your own mind. As a photographer, you have a style that comes from your perspective on life, your history, and I believe that people can only see as much as they have experienced, so I like exchanging with people to learn new ways of seeing.
I think this is my style, to not set a boundary and to explore as much as possible, giving people the chance to interact with my photos. That’s another reason why I’m a fan of collaborations. At the moment I’m working with an illustrator. I’ve also worked with many graphic designers to execute my photo books. They help me look at my own work in a new light. I wouldn’t be able to pinpoint my favourite, they are all so different, we all come from different backgrounds.
You draw inspiration from collaborations, but are then any photographers in particular that inspire you?
The photojournalist Mary Ellen Mark is a great inspiration to me. She would take pictures of communities and actually visit them regularly. She really lives for the stories of these people and cares for them. She often went back for another photo series but also to check on them. I find this important as it’s a show of respect to them. It’s respect you pay for capturing someone’s life. She’s a classic photographer, but she said in an interview that it was getting harder and harder to sell real stories to magazines who prefer ‘fashion’ or ‘staged’ aesthetic shoots.
You mention photojournalism, is this a career plan you’re envisaging?
Yes absolutely. My dream is to work for National Geographic. This is because the magazine gives you the opportunity to research a topic as well as capture it, then you can share it with the world, pass it on, share an insight in a new perspective. This is the ideal combination for me. I also have a deep love of travel, meeting new people and I have a keen interest in discovering new cultures. As a result, I am confident I would be inspired by any assignment.
I’m also potentially interested in art-therapy. I created my “What is health” project to heal myself and create an open space for conversation. Everyone feels like they go through their trauma alone, but art can help create spaces of dialogue, of exchange. I wanted to create a platform where people would have the ability to discuss their issues, their experience of health and healing. It was also an important step in admitting to myself how profoundly I was affected, as opposed to those who go their whole life living in denial, until their world shatters. Once I was honest with myself, it gave me strength. Strangers at the expo and afterwards shared their personal stories with me.
I’m not sure I’d ever really do it but the expo was a very moving experience. I feel that I managed to heal myself through art. I don’t know if it helped others, but it made an impact. The fact that there is someone out there that could also be inspired by my work makes it even more worth it. I wonder what kind of interactions I will have during the next exposition.
The next instalment of Celina’s “What is Health” exposition will be held from the 13 July 2019 to the 18 August 2019 on two floors above the head office of Radio 4TNG at Heigifeldstraat 1A, 8404 Winterhur.
You can also contact her with any inquiries at email@example.com
Her website can be found at: www.celinaschroeder.com
Lastly, you can follow her in social media, on Instagram: @slunicam or on Facebook:/slunicam