Heimo Schmidt: Mythologies
The history of the Iceland series began with a commercial job where the client wanted to go to remote locations that were cinematic in feel. They asked me where I wanted to shoot and how I would go about it. I had always wanted to go to Iceland so I suggested it — and they bought it. I was very fortunate. We ended up shooting there in December on an ice flow with only four hours of daylight.
I fell in love with the place and made immediate plans to go back in the summer when there’s 24 hours of daylight. I was also fortunate to make friends with a local production company, and furthermore became close with a number of people I met while on the ad shoot. The next question was: “What am I going to shoot once I go back, and how am I going to pay for it”?
My wife is a stylist and she became friends with some local Icelandic designers. They had rented us some materials for the shoot, and said that if we came back they would loan us clothes for our personal project at no cost except prints of whatever we shot. This was huge and saved us on the wardrobe front.
Before returning we read most of the Icelandic sagas and most of the historical record on the vikings. I then started to put together ideas about locations and how I would re-imagine telling these sagas. I also looked to the work of Odd Nurdrum and other artists that I admired as inspiration. All the while I was reading Joseph Campbell’s The Power of Myth. Overall, we spent a great deal of time researching mythology and looking at art history.
“It started out using real Icelandic myths, and then the work evolved into making new ones. I wanted the series to be timeless and for me that meant making up new myths if the old ones didn’t work out. “
We finally landed and spent the better part of a week driving around looking for locations. We held some castings and my wife put together the outfits and the props. The people of Iceland were very giving, and we were offered props, objects, etc. directly from some of the museums. We shot a lot of out of the way historical places and people weren’t used to seeing a guy with an 8X10 camera. We also brought props from Copenhagen and Amsterdam.
We then drove to our locations and were consistently rained on.It was difficult at first and then I just started shooting in the rain and eventually the rain let up and I got some fairly nice work. My moto is better lucky than good!
I started out using real Icelandic myths, and then the work evolved into making new ones. I wanted the series to be timeless and for me that meant making up new myths if the old ones didn’t work out. Myth plays such a large part in almost all of the worlds cultures and Iceland is one mythical place!
I’ve never had so much fun taking pictures. Iceland is one of the most literate places on the planet. It has been in the popular imagination for a long while. Jules Verne set his novelJourney to the Center of the Earth in Iceland. Specifically the area around Snaefellsness (location of the Snaefellsjškull volcano). We chose this as a location for a number of images, and also for the setting of a short film I shot there. Jules Verne’s story is also taken in part from the saga of Snorri Sturluson (a history of the Iceland Kings). As far as the current popular imagination, I think most people think of the music coming out of Iceland (Bjork, Sigur Ros, Mum, etc…) and of course the beauty of its landscape.
Iceland is prone to modern myths of its own. Icelanders can go to the library and read Leif Ericsson’s journals. They are vikings. We actually shot at his house, which is now a museum. It’s the grass huts in some of the images. It felt like time travel.
“A lot of religious paintings were portraits of a sort, and I also used the work of Hans Holbein and am always influenced by August Sander. Essentially, most myths require some type of portrait.”Both myth and portraiture are key to this work. These are often connected throughout the history of art. I consider most of my work to be portraiture. When you’re shooting with large format, you’re forced to work that way. The most successful work for me is when I develop a relationship with whoever I’m shooting. As Avedon said, “if there’s no connection I’m filled with dread and the picture fails.” In this series I was asking the people to play the part of a mythical figure or figures in some cases. A lot of religious paintings were portraits of a sort, and I also used the work of Hans Holbein and am always influenced by August Sander. Essentially, most myths require some type of portrait.
I had brought a real WWII parachute on my trip and had planned to do a tribute to Margaret Burke-White. She photographed the English paratroopers practicing with the first working chutes at the time. This is the story behind the pilot shot. I’d seen her images in a special edition book, and they served as the inspiration for this shot. The location is one of many in Iceland that are remote emergency landing strips and the triangles all have different numbers corresponding to their location. I use two women in the shot to create a myth about a race of strong warrior type women (based on the Saga of Unn). I also did a shot of them with the chute open.
The image of the seated couple is based on the painting The Two Fridas by Frida Kahlo. I was flying from Copenhagen to Iceland when I saw a picture of this male model in a magazine who looked like the brother of the girl in the wool hat in front of the grass hut. It turned out he was Icelandic and was actually living in Denmark, but was visiting his family in Iceland on a break from working. My producer friend in Iceland hunted him down and asked if he would pose for my project. The resulting image is my homage to Kahlo.
It was shot in a complete downpour with my 8×10 with an exposure of 2 seconds. The reason their hair looks like that is because they were soaked. The water was rising around them and after 15 minutes the chairs were almost submerged. They were real troopers and I am still amazed they held still while their teeth were chattering. And a new myth happened because I was reading a magazine on a plane.
ABOUT THE ARTIST:
I was born in Austria and lived in Germany, Switzerland and Australia before immigrating to New York at age six. My family then moved to Detroit where I attended junior high and high school. I then attended Art School at the Center for Creative Studies (attached to the Art Institute of Detroit). I started playing around with photography in 8th grade and have been playing ever since. I’ve been making a living in photography since I was a junior in high school.
I shoot mostly with a Canon 5d Mk2, a Canon G10, and my iPhone. The digital stuff is mostly for my commercial work, and my self published magazine, Luddite. At the end of the day, the camera is just a tool. I shoot with a variety of cameras, depending on the project. Commercially, most clients don’t want to pay to shoot film, and I can’t really justify it on a cost basis.
I try to have a consistent process, but it really depends on what I’m doing (commercial or personal work). Some personal projects require the same pre-production and research as commissioned work. I usually have more than one theme I’m working with, so this drives the process. I tend to go out and do street or documentary based things that just involve getting out there with a camera and shooting. The other type of personal work is stuff like the Iceland series which required a lot of research and pre-production.
CONTACT HEIMO SCHMIDT: heimophotography.com
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