ArtBeat: Local photographer captures unguarded moments of everyday life

  • “Apostle,” by Anja Schütz is part of her portrait series, “Reclaiming the Holy,” which includes portraits that Schütz refers to as “The Apostles.” These are close-up portraits of male faces being caressed by female hands. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • “Mario,” by Anja Schütz is one of her pet portraits now on display at Hope & Olive. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • Anja Schütz, photographer from Turners Falls, likes to “find the moments that transcend our everyday waking life.” Contributed Photo

For The Recorder
Published: 5/10/2017 7:20:07 AM

Turners Falls photographer Anja Schütz is on fire right now. A current show at Hope & Olive restaurant through the month of May features samples from several distinct bodies of work including landscape and portraiture.

Schütz’s photographs tend to be dark and thoughtful. Their lighting, whether natural sunlight filtered through fog or a studio light barely touching the model, recalls the paintings of the Dutch Masters.

Schütz, who grew up in Amherst, attended the Hallmark Institute of Photography in Turners Falls and was 19 when she graduated. Her dream was to go to New York City and become a fashion photographer.

“But what happened is that I was faced with enormous amounts of sexism,” Schütz says. “Peers I’d gone to school with here and I would assist the same photographer and they’d be young men and they’d be invited to set up the lighting and do the technical things like the meter readings, all the heavy lifting, and I’d be sent out for coffee and to go to the bank and phone out for lunch. I was young and didn’t have a lot of self-esteem and didn’t really know how to stand up for myself.”

After a while, Schütz realized that she hadn’t picked up her own camera in about six months and had no interest in doing so.

“My passion, which was all-consuming before, was just completely gone,” Schütz says. “I didn’t pick up a camera in any serious capacity for over a decade.”

It was the easy availability of the iPhone camera that brought Schütz back to photography.

“I’d be driving and pull over on my way to work because it was a beautifully foggy morning,” Schütz says.

The positive response she received when she posted her photos on social media got Schütz to “start looking again.”

In encouragement, her parents bought her a good camera as a Christmas present a few years back, and working with better equipment encouraged Schütz to buy some studio lights.

“Now that I’m back, it’s all I want to do,” Schütz says.

Relearning the technical aspects of photography wasn’t difficult for Schütz.

“It was more just detaching myself from being technically perfect and just playing around. I have a light meter but I don’t tend to use it. … Generally I have the exposure right from the get-go but I do it more by intuition and feel. I play a lot with light fall-off so it’s less of a stark and crisp and perfect lighting. And I do that on purpose.”

The result is a beautiful, painterly feel reminiscent of Renaissance paintings. Asked to define what she calls “Renaissance lighting,” Schütz says that it usually involves only one light source, like a window or a candle.

“It’s so sensual and beautiful and leaves a lot of room for interpretation in a way that a lot of other photography lighting doesn’t,” Schütz says.

In some photos, this beautiful light barely illuminates a few objects on a table: a pewter jug, two artichokes, a handful of matches. There’s a sense of quiet in these photos, as if a large dinner party has just ended and everybody’s gotten up from the table and left the room.

“The still life work is really wonderful because it’s so meditative,” Schütz says. “You just kind of empty your mind and it’s more about how the light is hitting something or about the composition or just finding the rhythm and for me, the stillness in the image. It is very private and calming for me to do the still life work.”

One portrait series, “Reclaiming the Holy,” includes portraits that Schütz refers to as “The Apostles.” These are close-up portraits of male faces being caressed by female hands.

“These apostles are worshipping this almost more maternal approach to religion,” Schütz says. “And at the same time, these female hands are touching them and being very tender and nurturing. So, I’m thinking of religion as something that’s gentle and not punishing.”

Another series in “Reclaiming the Holy” explores female archetypes through “a matriarchal lens.” Working with female models, Schütz recreates the iconic characters of Eve, Lilith, Salome and other women who have often been treated as sinners, or been maligned in some way.

“My real joy in this project and working with these women who are willing to be nude is really exploring the beauty in every body. It’s something I got to explore in the fall with my project (Grab Him by the Ballot.)”

That project began during the contentious 2016 elections, and was a response to then candidate Donald Trump’s bragging that his star status allowed him special privileges with women. “Grab ’em by the pussy,” Trump said to Access Hollywood host Billy Bush in 2005, “You can do anything.”

Offended by Trump’s lewd misogyny, Schütz and a friend posed nude, their only coverage a 2016 ballot, and Schütz posted the photos to Facebook. An article in The Recorder article drew attention to the project locally and it ended up including portraits of over 200 women photographed in Greenfield and in Brooklyn, and attracting coverage in The Boston Globe, Glamour Magazine, Al Jazeera and Upworthy.

Schütz says that the project became very profound for her. She was moved that other women responded.

“Not only did they come, but a lot of them shared their stories with me, which was really powerful,” Schütz says.

“I met women who had suffered from years of body dysmorphia or from having been told they were worthless or ugly. One woman came because her mother had been abused, so she was doing it for her mother. All of these really beautiful, powerful stories made me feel honored that I got to be the person to do this project. And so I guess in finding your voice as an artist, I think a lot of it just has to do with finding those unguarded moments of following your gut.”

Sit! Sessions

A new commercial project for Schütz is a pet portraiture business she calls “Sit! Sessions.” A few of the portraits at Hope & Olive are of Schütz’s dogs, photographed in the same noble light that graces Eve or the apostles. She’s also photographed unusual pets such as a chicken and a hedgehog in this light. This is not a gimmick; this is in keeping with Schütz’s philosophy of always wanting to find the dignity in her subjects.

“If I had to say there was one thing in my work with creatures that I try to explore, it’s the moment of quiet that you can reach. … I like to find the moments that transcend our everyday waking life, where you can stand in front of (the photograph) and for a moment, if it’s successful, everything goes quiet. And you can just look and be released from everything else.”

Hope & Olive is at 44 Olive St. in Greenfield. For hours and other information call 413-774-3150 or visit: www.hopeandolive.com.

To see more of Schütz’s work, visit: www.anjaschütz.com. For information on Sit! Sessions, visit: www.sitsessions.com




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