The Photographic Journal

Marco Schmidli

Interview 077 • Jan 15th 2020

Foreword

Although the setting, the decoration, the context are not what fosters our love for a particular image, we are certainly enthralled by a fantastic use of these elements. And for that matter, fantastic elements.

Marco Schmidli of Schmidli Backdrops has been creating those fantastic elements for photographers since 1989. In our interview with him in his vine-covered studio that feels a bit like you’re a mouse inside a painter’s filing system, Marco stated a good backdrop goes undetected, it’s subtle. His backdrops don’t distract from a photograph’s essence, but rather, wrap the essence in a reliable cotton cloth for safe keeping.

Interview

So, painting wasn’t a profession?

In Switzerland, I don’t even know if it is now.

I mean you created a job for painting, right?

Yeah, I mean I went to art school, but you don’t get a paper. In Germany, they have academies and then you get some sort of a paper or something. Something to show for it, but in Switzerland it was not like that. You just go to a painting class but it’s not like they tell you afterwards, “you’re a master painter” or something like that.

I don’t know what it was like there at that time, but you didn’t consider going to Germany for school?

No, I went actually to Italy for a Swiss institute. I was there for two years with scholarships from Switzerland, but then again, it’s not a school where you get any papers. It’s just like, you’re doing your studies there and you know, they have these institutes from different countries like an American institute, Germany, French Institute. Because Rome is one of the countries, it’s a tradition from the Renaissance actually, where everything happened in Italy. I mean, new stuff came up there so all these countries would send their artists there to learn and study, you know? So, I guess that’s why they’re still doing that. But now you cannot go to other countries, I think we have studios in Paris from Switzerland and New York. You know, a lot of countries do that. They send their artists to other places for studies and stuff. Yeah, so, I was in Rome for two years and then in Zurich, I went to another school in Zurich. I liked school!

Haha, I can relate! Did you like one of those places the best?

I liked Italy a lot. Who knows, maybe I’m going there for retiring. I like Greece, I mean it depends for what. There are all kinds of countries that have different things to offer. Switzerland is nice too, it’s nice to grow up there, but then you have to go somewhere in the real world because it’s a bit like a golden cage. Switzerland is small, everything works well, education is free, it’s all good. I mean, it’s nice, but people get a bit spoiled I think. Haha!

Ha! And you didn’t want to be spoiled?

It’s good to be confronted with some real life. Like America, which is the best and the worst country, you know? It’s really the whole spectrum. Switzerland, you only have the good. Nothing bad, I mean not much bad. So, it’s a bit too good to be the real world, in a way. Here, it’s a lot more real. You can really go down, so you have to watch out for yourself. Switzerland there’s a lot of nets.

Haha! That’s a good way to describe it.

Yeah, you cannot really fall there. There’s always some institute that catches you or something. Here, you can do well or you can also do really badly for yourself. The system here, I’m not saying it’s good but, haha! That’s just how it is.

I understand. So, tell me a little bit about how you got started with your business.

You know, I was an artist, mainly starving. I mean not really starving, but not really successful, not pushing hard enough to sell my art and stuff. But I would always work as a photographer or other jobs to support myself and my art. In Zurich, that was. And then I saw this ad in the paper for a tour guide in the states and I thought, okay that gets me out of here for free and then I go travel after. I wanted to go to South America, but then they fired me after three months.

Really! Do you know why?

Because I wasn’t really tour guide material. I wasn’t used to talking or communicating much with people because I was used to being in my studio and painting, and my English was not that great. I just wasn’t a good tour guide, and I was hanging out in San Francisco because they were based over there. Then I would look for work and because I’m a photographer, I started to do assisting for other photographers, and there was this German photographer I worked with quite a bit. Great guy, good photographer. I was assisting him pretty regularly, and then this job came in where he needed backdrops, four backdrops, and that was happening while there was the earthquake, actually in ‘89? That’s when I came to the states. Yeah, that’s where I started, actually. I was working in the studio, not much happened to the studio, luckily. That’s how I got into it, because I got fired, you know? Sometimes the worst leads to the best. There’s been like two or three times in my life where I thought, “oh, this is really bad,” but then it turns out to be really good, actually.

Were you hesitant at all, in the beginning?

I mean, I came with nothing and that was an opportunity, you know, to do something that I liked to do. So, I painted this backdrop and the art director was happy, so he took me onto another job with another photographer. Then, I made a portfolio which was mainly textured stuff. I lived in a community there with some Australian people, and in the kitchen, I remember I did some kind of textured stuff on fabric and I showed it to some photographers in San Francisco. San Francisco was easy because everything’s close together, and I knew all the photographers. I got the addresses of those who were doing well. Sometimes I had to wait a while until I could meet them because they were so busy. It’s funny the ones that invited you right away were the ones that weren’t really busy, but they also never got you a job. Once I had met the guys who were really busy, I got some really good clients. I had mainly two clients that were really great.

What made them great?

They wanted a lot of backdrops and they were good photographers. I liked what they did, and I worked with them a lot. Then I think Macy’s hired me a lot.

So, it was mostly like fashion, retail?

Yeah, and product. In San Francisco, it’s a lot of product photography. Not so much, fashion. But yeah, Macy’s, Nordstrom, some department stores gave me some good work. Then I took my own studio. Actually, I shared a studio with a guy. It was really cool. He would be around at night, his buddies and I would paint. I lived in Oakland so I came over the bridge, which was really nice when you came into the city. So, I went in the afternoon or late morning when traffic died down and I worked late. Yeah, it was a great time. That was about 3.5 years in San Francisco, then I came down here [to LA].

Just because?

More opportunity here. I wasn’t sure if I should go to New York or LA, but I knew some people here. So I came here, and it was also closer. I already had a collection of about 50 backdrops, big ones, but a lot of smaller ones for product photography. You know, whenever I did a job I made multiple backdrops because it’s easier for me. So, I don’t have to focus in on a particular result. I just circle around it, and I give the clients usually a choice of three backdrops, so I always ended up with two more backdrops. Haha.

That’s an efficient way to do it.

Yeah, now I have all these backdrops that I was putting a booklet together, you know, like homemade catalogs, and sent them out.

Did you have any competition at the time?

Not much, really. There was I think one other company, but all the backdrops at the time were really actually very, tacky.

Oh, really!

Yeah, backdrop business is, was, yeah it was already tacky when I started. I mean they would always use a sponge and it was not… I came up with new techniques that were more random. I’m not, you know, when I tell a painter to paint the night sky and don’t give him an image then it’s like, the way the brain works, they’re making all the same distance between each star. And I see all these backdrops around like that, but when you look at the world or the stars, the clusters, it’s not like that. I had this teacher in art school who asked us, “do you want to know what good composition is?” “Yeah, of course,” we said. Then he took a hand full of beans out of his pocket and threw them on the floor. “That’s a good composition.”

Interesting!

That’s one of my mantras and how I work: Let it happen. The natural way. Instead of like, using a sponge and everything looks like repetition. And that’s how most backdrops were done like this example of the stars, and I kind of pride myself in having changed this whole thing, a little. I saw a lot of companies going out of business. They wanted to sell me their backdrops, and I had to say, I cannot use these backdrops, they’re very outdated and stuff. So, I came up with all kinds of my own techniques. I didn’t come from the regular way, I think a lot of those backdrop painters came from scenic painting or somewhere, more out of a tradition. I came out more from just my own tradition, haha, from my art. And I just loved to do backdrops, actually, because it gives me purpose, somehow. When you do art, you know, on your own, you have to be your own critic. Go to galleries and all this whole art world is kind of, difficult. I was not really happy to do that but for backdrops, it was just… it’s very playful. Also, in that world, I have other expectations on myself. I want to do avante-garde or something, stressing myself out. Backdrops always came very easy and then people love it and can use it for their work, and I’m of service. So that gives me a good feeling and a purpose.

Yeah, absolutely.

It’s great, I have so many happy customers. They tell me I was very instrumental in their careers, some people say, and all kinds of stuff like that, which is nice to hear. And then it pays the bills, and now I’m still trying to do my personal art.

Yeah, is it hard to have that balance?

No, I think I have so many backdrops now, I don’t need to… we mainly rent. I have a ton of backdrops. I actually tried to disperse them a bit in different locations. I have a collection in New York, and London, Hamburg, Sydney, Shanghai. So, I’m kind of trying to get rid of some backdrops, haha! Spread them out a bit, because it gets difficult when people have too many choices, it’s almost too much. But I still like to do them, but I want to focus on my art. But the problem with my art is I have so many techniques. I mainly like process-based, my art is not like, again, I don’t have a fixed idea and that’s what I want to do. It’s more like, let’s see what’s happening when I do this. It’s like being in the forefront of evolution, you open doors and there’s stuff. There’s always new stuff coming up, and it’s just almost too much. I do all kinds of stuff. And as an artist you have to have a bit of a brand, something that you’re recognized for.

Like a point of view?

Yeah, something that you repeat a lot, so that it’s recognizable. But that’s what I’m working on now, trying to stick to something so it’s more recognizable as my art.

You don’t feel like your style is consistent just with–

No, I do so many different techniques because I came across a lot of those things as I was doing backdrops, and I want to explore all those different techniques. So, I’m going all over the place, but that was always the problem in my art. I start somewhere and I have an idea but then I end up somewhere else, something new, “wow this is great and this is great”. So, that’s really a struggle but we’ll see where it goes.

So, do you still photograph at all?

Yeah, when I go on holidays or when I shoot the backdrops. Yeah, I do a little bit of photography, but actually, I just got a computer for my home so I can work at home and sort all my photography.

Oh, that’s great!

Because I don’t want to come down, I live a bit outside in Topanga. So, I don’t want to come down here all the time. So, I want to do that kind of work up there. Bring some stuff and also sort my art. It’s a lot of sorting that I have to do, haha, and editing my photography. I mean I have thousands of pictures. You know how it is with digital, you just shoot and shoot. I never really look at them anymore, I just shoot and shoot. So, I have to really put that all together, and then I have stuff from way back like black and white negatives and stuff I should scan in.

What do you mainly shoot?

Whatever fascinates me at the moment, from landscapes to people, to objects, to light, some line stuff.

Yeah! If you shoot with a backdrop, do you have ones that you’re drawn to more?

Um, yeah. I like more just neutral stuff so the object is more present, you know.

Okay, and the photos that you get back of people using your backdrops–are the ones you like usually neutral, as well?

No, sometimes they do great stuff and it’s cool, if it works, you know. Sometimes they use scenic ones and they turn them upside down, all kinds of stuff. Yeah, I’m surprised sometimes what they do with the backdrops, and it depends who uses them. Sometimes it’s hard to recognize a backdrop because of the way they used them and with the lighting and all that stuff, but that’s up to them, haha. What they do with my stuff. I put it out there, and that’s what I like, I can just create stuff and put it out there and then, I don’t even know. In LA, I never really got to know photographers too well. I mean some but not like in San Francisco where I knew everybody.

Here, it’s more anonymous, but that’s good. I like to be in the background. Even though now, we have some housemates. I created this community up in Topanga with seven people and one day, one person has this tarot set with animals, and it has the description and you pick the card and I picked the peacock, and it was amazing. It was just totally saying what I needed to hear, you know. Basically, I have to spread my feathers, I have to come out of the background, and get out and show what I have, you know. Be the peacock, basically. Which I never wanted to be, but it was interesting. I even took pictures of what it said. It’s a little booklet, comes with cards. It was really interesting. It was totally tailored to my situation where I’m in now, with my art.

You’re just feeling like you need to put yourself out there to get more work or what?

No, mainly I just feel like I have to bring out my art and show what I, you know, share with the world, basically.

Yeah, because you’re not always the main artist for your backdrops now?

No, no. I do all my own backdrops.

You do all of them still?

I mean, some of them, the scenic one, I don’t like to do them so much. I don’t do much scenic paintings anymore, we have everything we need. No, I do everything pretty much.

Wow, so as the face of this business, you just feel like you need to be more of a peacock.

Not so much the business, more I think it has to do with my art, showing beauty, showing my stuff, and be more out there, bringing it out, haha! Yeah, so that means I have to do more with my art and sign my stuff, I mean. My backdrops are just a service to some other people whose name is on the end product.

That’s a great point, yeah.

But I also want to have my name, you know, to sign my art. It’s me, it’s not like for somebody else’s work, it’s my own work.

That makes sense.

That was the idea, the peacock. So, I try to keep that in mind because I have to get out of my comfort zone, I don’t like to be in the foreground much, but I guess I have to a little bit. They’re always telling me, “you have to go do openings” and “you have to go out there and get in touch with galleries” and all that, but it’s like psh.

You left that a long time ago.

I was never really, never too much into schmoozing this whole–

I mean, it’s retail essentially. Right?

Yeah, you have to sell yourself. I mean, I sell myself in my backdrops which is okay, but when it comes to people and trying to convince them how great I am.

Haha!

Haha, I don’t like that. I’m not a guy that goes to a bar and talks and makes themselves very important, and stuff. I don’t know what to talk with people at a bar. That’s not my thing. I never go to bars, I just don’t know, when I go in there and feel like awkward or something.

Hahaha.

It’s weird, some people can talk about themselves and sell themselves. It’s not my thing, but I think I should learn, somehow.

I think you’re doing a pretty good job now!

Haha! Yeah, maybe people coming to me is better. Haha, I don’t have to go out. It’s okay when people come in, that’s good.

So, what do you feel like backdrops add to a shoot?

You know, it makes certain things easier, I guess. They don’t have to go out, they can do things in the studio. It’s just an element. Sometimes the way they use the backdrops can be creative but then it’s just textured ones, you know they’re kind of in the background, still interesting but not overpowering, somehow because you only notice the backdrop when it’s a bad one, you know.

Hahaha! Oh, that’s interesting.

You know, it’s disturbing, it’s tacky. But if it’s a good one then it’s just a part of the picture and it’s not disturbing, it’s kind of nice and subtle, and all that. Because you know, it’s easier to shoot on a backdrop because you don’t have this hard line, you know in a wall, or something. It just makes it easy and neutral, creates a nice, neutral background.

Yeah, it’s funny that you say, if you notice them it’s a bad because the last one I saw that I really, really liked was the one with Snoop Dogg for I think, GQ, and they had those dark clouds in the back. I don’t know if you remember that one.

Oh, yeah, yeah.

Snoop Dogg by Julia Noni

Yeah, and I was like, “that is a good use of a backdrop”. But I noticed it!

Yeah, so it was like a scenic, like clouds?

Yeah, a bunch of clouds, it was really, sort of epic.

I like when they do good stuff, haha! Sometimes, I’m like wow, this is cool, they do something that’s great. That’s nice, yeah, haha. I like when they do great stuff.

Rewarding.

Yeah, it’s nice to see.

So, can you recall the last photo you saw using your backdrops that you thought, “wow, this is exactly how I hope they’re being used”?

There’s many of those, but I’d have to go through, we have some on Instagram and stuff that I like. We have to go through that because I’m not good with names, but there were a few, I think I saw the one that you just mentioned too, and I liked it.

So, have you seen a shift in how photographers use your backdrops over the years? Do you see trends, in the way they use it?

Mm, I just notice that people rent more backdrops, I don’t know. At some point, I was a bit worried about digital, you know, that they can green screen and stuff like that, but I think that’s just more possibilities. That’s like when TV came up they thought radio was out, but I love radio and it’s still going strong, you know. Same with the backdrops, you know, I thought maybe I’ll become obsolete but no, now they have more options. They can use the green screen and strip some in if they want to achieve a certain effect.

But yeah, I’m happy that they still go strong, actually. And I know that good photographers, they don’t want a mess afterwards and Photoshop. They want to control everything in front of the backdrop, and that hasn’t changed actually, that’s pretty much the same. I don’t know if anything changed.

Wow.

I’m glad it didn’t change, actually. Maybe we became a bit more playful with backdrops. Maybe originally, backdrops were really just grey or a texture or something, and then the scenic world, you know. But now I think they use scenics to play with, upside down or sideways, or they hang it back so that it’s actually visible as a backdrop, as an element.

Oh, yeah!

Annie Leibovitz did that and a lot of people wanted me to copy that. Yeah, so you see the backdrop hanging with the stands, and stuff. But yeah, it become more as an element. I think in the beginning, it was more like hiding, people didn’t want to show that it was part of the picture, even the scenic ones, where they tried to make it really realistic so you wouldn’t know it was a backdrop, but now they play with it. Sometimes they want tacky backdrops on purpose. Like, “oh shit, I don’t have any.” Haha!

Haha!

You know, I should have bought some of those tacky backdrops.

What would you consider tacky?

You know, the old ones where it’s really not realistic. Like Simpson clouds that’s obviously badly painted, and stuff. Sometimes they ask for that. They want to actually take it as an element in a picture, so maybe they become more playful that way, overtime. Which is great, it’s fun.

Absolutely. So, you said the business has been pretty consistent, that you haven’t really reach any kind of rough times?

You know, it went up and down when there was the crisis, of course. Like everybody, it went down. People rented half as much. So it’s very much, you know, related to what’s happening with the economy but otherwise, it’s pretty consistent, yeah. I mean, now some people are catching up a bit, with my style, they’re getting better.

Like competitors?

Yeah, there’s a few. I feel like now they’re doing… At first, I could always see, well that’s mine and that’s something else, but now I feel like they’re getting closer, they’re catching up. So that’s a bit scary, but maybe that’s okay. Yeah, there’s one company in New York, they did pretty tacky stuff when I started and now they kind of, they get better.

Yeah, yeah. They learn, haha.

They have to! Because I feel like sometimes like, “oh shit, I put all these backdrop companies out of business, all these little guys. I had like, I mean I also had some other backdrops from two, three other companies that I took in but the one is a really great guy, and he had skydrops, big skydrops he did really well but then the whole thing went under and now I have his skies, what’s leftover from his company, And then I have another person in New York, she had a backdrop company and we have some of her backdrops, she closed. There was another company here in LA, and we bought their backdrops.

What do you think made you last?

I think because I did some new stuff, more this random style. There were a lot of techniques that are not as tacky, haha, as the original backdrops. They were really tacky, I mean, you see them in school portraits still. That kind of, I don’t know if you’re familiar with it.

A little bit, yeah!

There’s a certain weight and they’re all the same, they’re all done the same way with a sponge, and it’s all this repetition of sponge. So yeah, I really refused to use a sponge. That was one thing for me, no sponge backdrops in my collection.

So, those obviously weren’t tacky at the time, until you sort of outdated them. So, do you see where it would go after this?

Could I still get to a higher level? I have this joke with an assistant of mine, he said yeah, push it to a higher level, was a kind of mantra, we were joking about going to a higher level or something, haha! After that we started playing with you know, ideas. Also, one of my mantras, and I heard that from David Bowie once, he said make the same mistake twice and it becomes a style.

Haha!

So I really like that, you know, the idea that you cannot really make mistakes, you know, and then repeat the mistake and it becomes, you know. It’s not always working, some mistakes are just mistakes, but it’s like in evolution when the good mistakes and bad mistakes, and the good mistakes leads to new things. That’s how evolution progressed, a lot of mistakes that happened in the genes, or whatever, and most of them are bad mistakes, haha. You see them out there, but then there’s sometimes mistakes that actually improve the genes, and then that’s what evolution does. So that’s for me like yeah, make mistakes, then don’t be afraid of mistakes, really.

And can you recall any mistakes that you made that went better?

Yeah, I made a lot of mistakes, and then surprised that, “wow, that’s really cool.”

Like what?

You know, the way I apply paint sometimes. I have an idea and it’s wow, it’s a surprise. I like the surprise, I like to do things just to see what happens. Sometimes it’s shit and sometimes it’s not, I do that constantly. I like to surprise myself. I do a lot of like, slapping paint together and that alone creates stuff. Two different colors, slap them together and then let it dry, then you have to kind of pull it apart. I can pull something off this table, and then it’s like, “wow”, the way it sticks together. Haha. The way it pulls apart, you know, stuff like that. Right now, there’s some plastic with some paint on it that I transfer to a canvas so that I paint the canvas, and I put it into a process. It has some interesting shapes on it because it was folded and all that. Then I wrap it up and let it dry and put the plastic out, you know, it’s just stuff like that. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s not so good. Haha!

And will you ever be like, “no, I can’t put this out”?

Yeah, if it’s something I don’t like, I just overwork it, play with it more.

So, there’s not very many that you scrap?

I don’t have any. I don’t waste anything.

Wow, that’s amazing.

I can transform everything. Sometimes I try to put them in the washing machine and then the paint comes off, haha.

Haha! Oh, that’s helpful.

Yeah, I like to do things out of nothing. I try to use minimal material as much as possible. I don’t waste paint. I don’t waste materials. I really like that as a concept. No waste, do something with everything. That also leads to new things, actually. I always see something and think, “ah shit, I could do this and this with it.” Some of those backdrops we bought, we transformed and sometimes it just needs a wash and it brings out something else that was in there, in the fabric.

But even those sponge backdrops, if I paint over them, it starts to looks more interesting. Sometimes in the wash, some of the stuff that’s in there comes out maybe more in a different way. So, it’s always interesting to try different washes, because there’s always something hidden in these backdrops that’s always fun to play with. There’s lots of ways to apply paint or play with it.

Since you’ve been doing this for so long, did you ever have creative ruts? Like, not inspired?

You see, I don’t believe in inspiration. I believe in discipline. Once I start working, it just happens. You just open doors. So, you just do something, you start somewhere and think, “wow”. You get excited, you don’t have to be inspired, really. I just love to see what’s coming towards me, I feel like I’m like a tunnel, haha.

Haha!

Just let it come in, I don’t need to be inspired. It’s not like I’m going, and I want to do something specific like I need inspiration or I need an idea, and then I go for it. It’s more like, let’s just open my arms and say, “yes, bring it on!” And it happens, you know? Just go do something. There’s constantly something I want to do. Like I said, I came across so many possibilities, and yeah, sometimes I feel bad that I don’t have a fixed idea or the willpower to do that particular thing, but that’s my nature. I like to create a frame and then let it happen within the frame. I mean, this whole studio’s just a frame, for me.

I mean, this community that I have in Topanga, I just like to make a nice space where people can feel comfortable and then the magic happens, you know? Or I build frames, and the way I work, it’s like I have a concept, a frame, and within the frame it’s like a painting, a frame within a frame. The magic happens somehow. So, I don’t need inspiration, I just create that frame and let it happen. I go with the flow, in my life. I have never really wanted to have this backdrop… I have a friend coming over from Europe and he wanted to do something in America and he has these fixed ideas, he’s a graphic success, with graphic design, but it didn’t work out right away and then he went back, haha. I came with just being open to what’s happening or what comes to me. I think you just have to be open to what starts. I was always like that, I never had a plan. Some people had a plan. Career, family, house, dog, kids, haha. I never had that, I was just exploring always. See what’s interesting. I never had a fixed goal, let’s just go with the flow.

But you know, not saying that’s the right way to do it. It’s just the way I am somehow, and I never thought that. Only afterward I realized I like to create this framework because it makes me safe. You know, have a structure. I have a daughter and I know the status with educating her, that’s really important for kids to have a structure so they feel safe within that structure, and then they can be free and happy and all that. So, that was also eye-opening for me, and I know I like that. I like to have structure and play within that structure. It also has to do with where I come from. Switzerland was all very organized, structured, but then I’m also French and Italian. I think the Swiss creates the structure and then within that structure, I can be French and Italian, chaotic. And I didn’t know that about myself, but I kind of started to realize that’s how I operate, that’s how I function. Sometimes you don’t know what you’re doing, you know? You just do it. Then maybe later on you realize, “oh, that’s what you’re doing!”

Haha!

Hahaha. So yeah, I got to realize these things which is also great.

Yeah. When you moved here, I mean, you didn’t really have a frame, you were just kind of–

Yeah, I didn’t come here to do backdrops, haha. I didn’t come to America because I thought, “oh this is great, this is the land of opportunity.” I just took on a job, and they fired me, and the rest just happened.

So, was it hard to not have a frame at that time?

Yeah, I didn’t have a frame, that’s true. Yeah, I wasn’t really fulfilled at that time, that’s true. I was just looking. I was just floating around, but I was not uncomfortable with that, I was young. At some point, I realized that money is actually… it’s tough not to have money because it becomes important when you don’t have it. Hahaha!

Hahaha.

Haha, it becomes too important. So, in Switzerland, I never had money. So, it was actually easy for me in the states to become more pragmatic because I think people are very pragmatic here. For me, I was always, “ah, I don’t need money.” I was a hippy, “eh, money. Psh, who cares about it.” Haha!

Hahaha.

Then you get older, you have certain needs and stuff like, “shit, I need money.” That was actually good when I came to the states, I think it’s easier to make money, to focus on practical things. In Switzerland, I was more like a philosopher, haha. I was like idealistic, you know. And then here I became more like focused on practical stuff, and it’s nice to do something that has value for others, you know. Have a purpose and have a contribution to society, somehow, and get rewarded for it.

Absolutely.

I mean, if you do things, at some point… I see artists in Switzerland still they never get rewarded for what they’re doing. At some point, it’s like, if you don’t get paid for what you’re doing it means nobody cares for it. Then it becomes kind of like meaningless, like I don’t want to do stuff that nobody wants. So, it’s nice when people reward you for what you’re doing. It’s an exchange and that means you have a contribution and people actually appreciate it.

How do you feel photography contributes?

You know, if people pay you for it, that means they like it! I think money is really the ultimate critic. I really now feel like when I get paid for something, it means it’s worth something. If I don’t get paid for it, yeah, I mean maybe people don’t understand what I’m doing. But there’s so many people that say, “oh, you know, nobody understands what I’m doing.” But I think these days, it’s not like in Van Gogh’s time when people did not understand what he was doing, you know. Now people are just waiting for the next interesting stuff. So, if you’re not getting rewarded for what you’re doing, either you don’t market yourself right, or it’s maybe not that great, hahaha. I don’t know.

Not relevant, maybe.

Maybe not relevant. I mean, it’s kind of sad to say that, but it’s a bit like that, you know. Or you just do it for the heck of it. I know a lot of artists, dancers, musicians, they struggle. I’m happy that I don’t have to struggle like that anymore, I mean, it’s great, but maybe I just was lucky, found a way out of being an artist. Be still an artist, but do something that is appreciated in a monetary way.

I mean, you were open to opportunities and stuff at the time. A form of luck, I guess.

Yeah, you have to be open to opportunity. I mean, I just liked to do it. I never thought I’d be up in LA, having a nice place and success in what I’m doing. It’s a small need, but it works for me, it’s nice. I guess I consider myself happy, I’m happy with my life, I’m happy with my house in Topanga, I like to be there. I like to be here. I can choose the people I want to be surrounded with. I don’t have to work for anybody, I’m my own boss. That’s great. I never wanted to, I always felt uncomfortable working for other people because I felt like I’m not good enough, I stressed myself out, you know. Then I was a photographer, and I had clients at my back. Maybe that’s because I’m dyslexic, so I was never good in school except when I went to art school, that changed. So that was always an embarrassment and a burden. Made me kind of insecure to work for other people. So, I just had to find other ways, I guess, because I didn’t feel that comfortable with my dyslexia and stuff. Nowadays, they’re more understanding about it. There are books on like the gift of dyslexia that’s saying our brain works different and why and how and how it’s actually a gift. Lot of smart people who are dyslexic, all that stuff. So now it’s not so much of… but I just thought I was stupid at that time.

Do you still feel any of that?

Not so much anymore, I think I have proven myself, haha. But still, I had to go on location for a backdrop and didn’t feel comfortable. I don’t want to stress myself, I just want to do my stuff here, I don’t want to go on location. Less stress, less pressure, and I like that.

So you’re more of an introverted person?

No, I like people, just when it comes to work maybe I like to be on my… I don’t like to have somebody breathing down my neck expecting stuff. I don’t like stress. That’s what’s great about my business. I don’t have stress, I just do my stuff. Once in a while, I have a custom job but usually I have enough time. It’s a little bit of a challenge sometimes to match stuff, I don’t like to match stuff. Haha! I like to create new stuff because there’s a lot of randomness in the way I work, so it’s hard to really replicate it. Some things can be redone but others, it’s difficult.

Replicating is not throwing beans on the floor.

Yeah, they never fall the same way! Hahaha.

So, what’s next for you? I mean, you go with the flow, but any plans?

Next, for me, I’m actually dreaming about a farm.

Really!

Yes, I would like to have a farm with some artists and farming and being off the grid. Somewhere where there’s a lot of water. Something big, but forest. I would like to do that, and have a bunch of artists there, like metal, wood, pottery. I like all these crafts.
Glass, forging. Maybe a retreat, people can come. Have a little community, so I’m not alone in the boonies because it would be far away somewhere because that’s where the land is cheap. Have animals. Did you see that movie, The Biggest Little Farm?

No, I haven’t seen that.

It’s like a farm that’s been around for seven years now. They started it and the farm was really messed up, how they use industrial farming and they put a lot of fertilizer. They killed the earth, basically. They say 30% of farming is actually in bad shape, so they started to compost and animals pooping all over the place and then they worked with the animals. The coyotes and owls who get the gophers, so it’s all in harmony with nature and you know, they have chicken, and geese. They had lots of like trees, I think? Apricots and snails lived all over the trees and then they didn’t want to use any pesticides and kill them, and then they figured out they let the geese out, the geese eat them. So, you see all these geese rushing into these fields of apricots and they would just eat those things up like nothing. So, it was all like, they always try to find the natural cycle of things, the way to deal with things. And then the gophers, they had the coyotes instead of eating the chickens, they eat the gophers, and they have some owl nests there and the owls eat, and it’s all like, makes sense without much interference. It’s just the natural way of farming, so that was really impressive. So, something like that, I wouldn’t mind to do something like that.

And you’d still paint?

Eh yeah, maybe not. Haha! But I can’t let go of it. I could just enjoy it myself, I’m just fascinated by it. So maybe I can paint out there still. I like when stuff grows. I think it’s fantastic what we have on this planet, it’s so beautiful.

Hahaha. Well, I think that’s a great place to end. Thank you!

Thank you for listening.