Dark and surrealistic self-portraits: interview with Alex Schaefer
Surrealism always was one of my favorite art styles. Perhaps that’s why my attention was strongly attracted to Alex’s Schaefer self-portraits. A recent graduate of NYC University’s Tisch School of Arts, he perfectly combines darkness and creativity. He uniquely highlights emotions and thoughts that are hard to describe out loud in words. I had a really nice chat with Alex about his personality, ideas and assumptions. I simply hope you’re going to enjoy this interview and will enter into the dark world of surrealism by Alex Schaefer.
How did your idea to start experimenting with self-portraits materialize?
For me, the idea of doing a self-portrait series was almost born out of necessity. Since high school I have struggled quietly with depression. At the time I first began the series I was studying film at school. I was in the process of writing a feature-length script about a character that was loosely based off of my circumstances. Depression was never something I felt comfortable or open to speaking about, so I found it difficult to express what I wanted to say with words. I came up with the idea to begin a self-portrait series because I wanted a creative outlet to express the emotions and anxiety that I was too afraid to speak about. I wanted to let the pictures speak for the words I could never seem to say.
Oh, so that’s why your self-portraits are so dark and full of emotions. It seems that your character (or you, yourself) is always fighting life challenges within the surrealistic world of your art. Why is it important for you to reflect everything in such a surrealistic way?
To me, surrealism provides a creative escape for the mind. It opens us to the possibility of seeing things differently. I feel that society in particular puts a great deal of pressure on us to follow the status quo and I knew from the beginning that I wanted to use photography to create worlds that break the boundaries we live within. And so, too, I wanted my portraits to offer an audience the ability to escape to a new world where they could question their curiosity and challenge what they already know.
Do you think art can help society regarding sending important messages about some serious matters?
Yes, I think art certainly has the ability to send an important message and effect change in a society. However, I think it comes down to the individual. We respond to art best when we are able to connect with it personally. Art that delivers an important message to society is one which is able to connect with people not simply as an audience, but as an individual.
You said that you wanted art speak for your emotions that you couldn’t express in words. Do you feel now, after creating these self-portraits, more comfortable with yourself and your past?Yes! These self-portraits have given me a creative outlet to express how I feel, but have also afforded me the opportunity to reflect on who I am along the way. In fact, what surprised me the most was perhaps how much I learned about myself from these portraits. Most importantly, I learned to always stay true to yourself and the art you want to create. It took me a long time to become comfortable posting my photographs. I thought that people who knew me might think I was crazy! And yes, sometimes it can be difficult to be vulnerable with your art, especially when it’s an extension of yourself or your emotions, but what I’ve learned so far is that you have to pursue what you are passionate about. You can’t let anything stop you- not fear, not rejection, not what other people might think of your work, and most importantly, you can’t stop yourself from becoming the artist you want to be!
I also have looked at your resume, I hope you don’t mind. It seems that you are working a lot with film photography. Is it hard to stay motivated for your personal projects while you’re working hard, or maybe this kind of work is the motivation itself?No, not at all- I’m excited you found it! I spend a lot of time working as a camera assistant on commercial and narrative work around New York City. I also just finished an internship in the photography department at Saturday Night Live! I love the work that I do outside of my own photography, so it never feels as though it takes away from my own creativity. In fact, I find that sometimes it even motivates me more because I’m always itching to finish my work on set so I can get home to take a photograph before the sun sets. The work itself is definitely motivational, especially because I am surrounded by some of the most talented and hardworking people that I know! It’s great to be with people who inspire you and the work you do and who are always ready to accept the next creative challenge thrown their way.
Do you think it is hard nowadays to get into the art or photography industry?
I think it’s much easier than it used to be. We have the advantages of digital technology and social media which can connect us with an audience in an instant. Now it’s easier than ever to have your photographs shared and seen by a huge amount of people. What is also interesting to consider is how technology has given us the opportunity to push the boundaries of art — particularly in the realm of surreal and conceptual photography. I think of software like Photoshop for example, which has given artists like me the ability to imagine the impossible and then go out and create it!
I totally agree with that! What is your biggest goal related to photography at the moment?
I would love to have some of my photographs exhibited in a New York City art gallery!
Edited by Melissa Searle