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Interview with Alex Schaefer

Please introduce yourself

I’m Alex Schaefer. I’m a native of central Massachusetts, and currently live in Brooklyn, NY where I work as a freelance photographer. When I’m not taking photographs, I work as a camera assistant on commercials and feature films.

How did you get interested in photography?

In January 2014 I interned in the photography department at Saturday Night Live. This was my first exposure to the commercial film world and taught me very quickly what to expect. The head photographer, Mary Ellen Matthews, was tasked with shooting the portraits of the host and musical guest for each show. It was a fast paced and thrilling environment with a lot of pressure and no room for error. I loved it. I fell in love with the thrill that came with entertainment photography and that’s when I began thinking seriously about pursuing it as a career.

Prior to working at SNL, my passion for photography stemmed from the adventures I had in the woods around my childhood home. To this day I have very specific memories of exploring the forest with my friends and family. I even recall the places I deemed my “secret spots” because I was so inspired each time I went there. I think these experiences significantly influenced the fine-art photography I do today. I find that I’m really interested in using nature as both an environment to shoot in as well as a theme throughout my work.

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Do you have an artistic/photographic background?

I moved to New York to study Film & Television production at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. I find that there’s a lot of crossover between film and photography, not just aesthetically but also in purpose.

Going to film school taught me the importance of storytelling. It’s ubiquitous to every form of art if you think about it. Ultimately, art connects people through stories. I relate to photographs that capture something I recognize in myself. For me, photography is about being able to share your story with a viewer in a way that they can uniquely understand.

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Which artist/photographer inspired your art?

I’m extremely inspired by the surreal portraiture of Gregory Crewdson and Brooke Shaden. Their photographs are story driven and also have a style that is uniquely their own. It is recognizable. I admire photographs like Crewdson and Shaden and Mary Ellen Matthews because they excel at executing a unique vision for their art and as a result, we are able to identify their work by a distinct visual style.

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How much preparation do you put into taking a photograph?

The preparation for a photograph often depends on the idea. Some ideas sit with me for months before I shoot them. Others come to me out of the blue and I think “I have to find a way to shoot this tonight!”. Just the other night an idea came to because I was inspired by the way my bed sheets were falling off the edge of my bed. It’s funny how things can happen like that.

I can be inspired enough by an idea to dive right in without much preparation. On the other hand, there are times when I have a location or character I want to portray and set out with only a vague idea of how I might fulfill the idea. That approach doesn’t always work, as there have been a handful of ideas that I toss out and laugh to myself, wondering what I was thinking.

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Could you please tell us something about your technique and creating process?

I typically shoot everything on my Canon 7D with a 24mm lens. If I’m shooting in my apartment I tend to use my 16mm lens to get a little bit wider. I was always in favor of shooting in natural light, but have recently begun a series in my apartment that I light using strobes.

I don’t intend for it to be stylistic, but rather use the strobes to let me shoot in my dimly lit apartment at a low ISO and higher f/stop. This way I can minimize the amount of grain in the shadows and also maximize my depth of field.

When it comes to post production, I like to shoot everything in RAW so that I can open it later and reduce the contrast as much as possible. I like to think my fine-art photographs are the antithesis of what my friends do when they light narrative films (aka- contrast is key for them!) For me, it comes down to using the resources at your disposal to the best of your ability. I don’t have a full lighting package to shape the light for my photographs. Instead, I opt to shoot with a soft and even light and add the contrast and shadows in post.

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What do you do in your life besides photography?

When I’m not taking photographs I work as a camera assistant for commercials and feature films. I’ve had the chance to meet some amazingly talented people and travel to some really unique locations. Film & Television production is still very much a part of my life and I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for the relationships I’ve cultivated through this work. It is amazing what can happen when you surround yourself with incredibly talented people every day, and I feel so grateful to have the opportunity to not simply know these people, but to work with them every day on the projects that inspire them the most.

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What future plans do you have? What projects would you like to accomplish?

I would love to work on a photography assignment that lets me travel around the world. It’s something that I didn’t take advantage of while I was in school and think it’s extremely important to experience life in different cultures around the world.

I would also love teach photography workshops to high school students. Art is such a powerful means of expression and I feel that so much of our creativity goes unused. As a culture, we put an incredible amount of weight on how we are viewed by our peers. High School is such a pivotal period in our lives because if we succumb to the pressure of doing whatever it takes to be accepted, we run the risk of missing out on discovering the full potential of our creativity.

The problem I see is that we often hide who we are and what we are passionate about because we don’t want to be knocked down by our peers and friends. We’ve come to believe that society, not us, dictates the authenticity of our work.

I want to share my story and experiences with others so that they may be empowered to do the same. It can feel incredibly intimidating to share our artwork with the world, but it is only when we let ourselves be vulnerable enough to share our passion and inspiration that we can truly experience the meaningful connections we cultivate with those who are willing to do the same.

Alex Schaefer website:
www.AlexSchaeferPhotography.com

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