November 14, 2014

Spotlight: Phebe Schmidt

Happily plastic.

Phebe Schmidt's artwork is pastel and morbid, girly and creepy, seductive and repulsive all at once. The photographs she takes are young and fresh, making us think about how we view ideal beauty in the media--a question constantly swirling around us. Creating images that are shot in a way that is reminiscent of a mail order catalog, she utilizes this advertorial style and inserts images of gender, beauty, and food, using the strong command that advertisements do to deliver messages of how we see generic beauty ideals that often conform to gender, social, and cultural norms. There is an artificial and uncomfortable feeling these unnatural and unrealistic images exude; the models stare blankly and the food doesn't seem quite edible. Her imagery feels removed and as a result, we as the viewer are unsettled, happily so. We talked to Phebe and asked her about her style, inspiration, and general curiosity with today's beauty ideals.

THE LE SIGH: You have a strong aesthetic, with your pastel colors and bold style. How did you come about finding the look you have to your photographs? 

Phebe Schmidt: My main inspiration is advertisements because when you look at them, you feel a sense of lack—which is what makes you want to buy the product. I use similar lighting schemes to popular photo advertisements that are hyper-real and bright but then offset the image with something like a smile that’s too broad, or sweat or tears—drawing attention to both the perfection and the imperfection inherent in the image.

TLS: How would you describe your style to someone who hasn’t seen your work before? 

PS: Cheesy, bright, hyper-real, disturbing.

TLS: What/who are some of your biggest influences? 

PS: Sci-fi, advertisements, and the contemporary obsession with homogenized, generic beauty ideals that conform to gender, social, and cultural norms are what influence my work most.

TLS: How did you get started in photography? 

PS: I started exploring photography in school. I enjoyed it, but was frustrated that I didn’t have the technical skill to achieve what I had visualized. I applied to study photography at RMIT in Melbourne, and initially I didn’t want to do the course. I even considered deferring or changing courses. I pursued photography and came to the realization that it was the best way to explore my obsession with generic beauty ideals.

TLS: There are common themes throughout your work of femininity and beauty, but shown in an almost scientific way. What is it about these themes that you keep coming back to? 

PS: I enjoy exploring the same themes over and over again because it is what fascinates me most. This might not always be the case in the future but I don’t think I am quite finished with my preoccupations yet.

TLS: Your photos vary between shots of models and shots of still lifes. Do you prefer one over the other? Do you find one to be easier than the other? 

PS: I don’t prefer one of the other. Often in can be easier to photograph still life, however I enjoy the uncertainty of shooting subjects or models.

TLS: The girls in your photos often appear like mannequins; they seem cold and sterile, more like they are just another prop in a still life. Why do you choose to pose your models in such a seemingly "lifeless" manner? What does it mean to you? 

PS: I tend to extract the life like qualities from my subjects and capture them as if positioned for an advertisement to reinforce the theme of generic beauty ideals.

TLS: What is it about food that you keep coming back to it as a recurring subject in your work? 

PS: I am fascinated by food; I am interested in creating an alternate concept of what it can be – unattainable and artificial – rather than a form of sustenance or pleasure.

TLS: What’s next for you?

PS: I am quite excited about a few publications I will be a part of in the coming months ahead! I am also working on a few collaborative projects, something I haven’t really explored in the past, so I am interested to see how they pan out.

Find more of Phebe's art here.

Katie Walck is an art doer, cat lover and believer in aliens. She spends many hours online trying to find the center of the internet/universe. Result: Still looking. Follow her on twitter @katiewalck.