It is inevitable to remember the legendary James Bond movies when one sees a “007” anywhere. The secret agent would always be the protagonist of a semi-fictional scenario filled with beautiful women, flashy cars and never-before-seen technology. This time, while 007 continues to be the center of attention, its main character is photographer J. Konrad Schmidt, who did a photo shoot with the Cologne-native model, Charlene Högger. Among the 200 Best Ad Photographers, German photographer Schmidt enjoyed shooting with the Leica S (Tyo 007), praising its “blazing speed”, its medium format files and 3.5 images per second. The outcome? Stunningly beautiful pictures. Here are the highlights with a behind-the-scenes video.
You’ve shot with the Leica S2, the Leica S (Typ 006), and now the new Leica S (Typ 007). How is it different from the previous models?
I started working with the S2 back in April 2010. Now I think the S 007 is the second real LEICA game changer (after the M Monochrome). No one else can offer 4K Video, 2K video on a medium format chip, these great lenses and a burst speed that is without a doubt way beyond everything else on the medium format market. LEICA has never been so far ahead with a camera body. To sum it up: Everything is different!
Which lenses did you use for the photo shoot?
I took the LEICA VARIO-ELMAR-S 30-90mm f/5.6 ASPH. and the LEICA SUMMICRON-S 100 mm f/2 ASPH with me to the beach. At the end I did most of the shots with the 100mm lens cause I’m much more into fixed focal lens systems. I don’t really have words for this thing. You try it – you want it. It is a true reference optical system and the results are mind blowing.
Thinking back the shootings with the Leica S system really always have been photographic milestones in my career. Of Corse I did everything I can to make it a milestone but there is something about this system that gives you the feeling that the camera itself has done everything it could to make the results perfect. And that is quite a comfortable thought to start a project with a free mind and a reliable camera.
Can you tell us more about this shoot? What is the concept behind it? What did you set out to achieve?
The concept was a bit inspired by Peter Lindbergh but he is shooting women in a set and I wanted to show the set but not take photos in it. Everything was a bit “on the side” and turned away from the actual place of “action”. At the end of the series we just walked on the beach and trough the dunes with no “work on a set in mind”. Finally, I just had my eyes on the model. The rest disappeared. I wanted to achieve a timeless portrait of this very outstanding model!
You mentioned that you shot over 1,500 photos that day. Do you feel like you achieved what you wanted to?
To be honest, I was a bit surprised about myself because I never shoot such a massive amount of files. I know what I want and I get it fast. I definitely achieved what I wanted and in this case the sheer number of shots was the key at the end I think. The camera is so fast, that the wonderful shots you would have missed during the moves of the model with a different medium format camera are now taken. So all the little emotions in her face are included in the 1,500 shots. Which really makes me very happy finally! I never needed 1,500 shots to get 10 good ones. This time we used the 95% of waste to get out the really best moments. I shot nearly everything in burst mode because the whole set was moving without a break. At the end the results are breathtaking and so was the camera.
Was this a client project or one that you dreamed up? If the latter, what was the inspiration behind it? In the past a corset kink to a dress has inspired your shoots, so I’m always curious what triggers your personal projects!
It was one of the projects called: “Leica gives you me a camera – better make it good and go further with yourself”- project. (smiling)
In a very good picture the actual image is more than the sum of it’s parts and that was the motivation for this shoot again. I was in an empty landscape with bad stormy weather. After the shoot it was way more than that…And I dreamed to work with Charlene. I puzzled the idea around her and the timetable. To get everything together with so many people for a single day was as hard as is always is but we did it.
All of your projects seem to conjure up a bit of fantasy and show your love affair with beautiful women either in the studio or in intimate spaces like hotel rooms. What made you want to shoot this on the beach?
I think the beach is one of the few places everyone has a longing for. The beach is associated with freedom, a distance to an everyday life and the calming sounds of the sea. It is a place that tells something that helps and inspires. The sheer beauty of the place was reason enough to shoot there. Working on off locations like this with literally NOTHING there is a true challenge but it didn’t scare me at the end. I was looking for a place that is similar to the model: Young and wild and free and on the other side calm, silent and wonderful.
The muse fo the images is the young German top model Charlene Högger! She just turned 18 while she was in the USA for New York Fashion Week. So she was 17 when we shot the series on the beach.
Aged 18 she already did shows for Emporio Armani, Valentino, Elie Saab, Stella McCartney, Givenchy, Alexander McQueen, Balenciaga, H&M, Nina Ricci, Sonja Rykiel, Salvatore Ferragamo, Dolce&Gabana, Emilio Pucci, Roberto Cavalli, Bottega Veneta, Prada, Hogan, DKNY, Fendi, Tod’s and the list of editorials isn’t far behind: VOGUE Italia, VOGUE Great Britain, VOGUE Germany, ELLE France, ELLE US, INTERVIEW magazine Germany, New York Times Style magazine, and many more.
I was looking for a dreamy, sensual model with strong eyes and a great experience in moving shots and a girl that understands my idea of beauty, sensibility and grafix. I think it worked out brilliant!
Since this is an outdoor shoot on a beach, what challenges did you run into?
The weather and the sand… We did the shoot on the 24th of June which sounds like summer but it just wasn’t. Wind, rain and 13 degrees Celsius at the beginning. At the end still cold but dry. That was really hard for the team with all the equipment, three cars and so many people in the middle of nowhere. The sand is a problem because you have to clean every piece that was with us on the beach at the end. Just everything is completely full of sand. That was a problem but we cleaned up everything successfully.
Did you envision the shoot in black-and-white from the outset? Did you capture the images in black-and-white or convert them in post-production?
Yes, it was clearly planned as a black and white series. I love black and white and I wanted to know how good the DNG files could handle the contrast you need for a great black and white photo. The images were captured as standard color DNG’s and then converted and selected in post. I haven’t done any further retouch. Leica files mostly come out like a final image when the light is right. Converting, contract, some little tweeks. Ready.
You once described your photography as art with women. What do you like most about photographing women?
It took me quite a while to find an answer here…
I can’t tell you why but in photography I’m strictly not interested in anything else. I have something in common with women. We are insecure.
That’s enough to catch our emotions and enough to make us think too much. My medical history is part of this insecurity. I have to overcome myself everyday – Not “overcome” in the meaning of forcing myself to do something – It’s about overcoming myself in person.
This, I was told, could be the reason why I can make women look so strong and unfathomable. It’s about giving confidence and giving space to enrole something you are but which is mostly hidden underneath a cover of social dependence and self protection. These soft moments of weakness come out as the strongest, most elegant and dominant pictures at the end.
I let the model be herself for a time while she lets me be myself for a time – A photographer addicted “looking” at her with a camera…
To know more about J. Konrad Schmidt, please visit his website, or follow him on Facebook or Instagram.