About Vivien Schmidt:

I was born in New York, lived in Milan from ages 8 to 16, studied in Paris in my early 20s, and now divide my time between Boston and Paris. My education in art and photography began in Italy, through visits to museums as well as by my stepfather, a consultant engineer and an avid black and white photographer. It continued as an undergraduate at Bryn Mawr College, through my art teacher, Fritz Janschka, a member of the “Vienna School of Fantastic Realism” (with whom he studied in the 1940s and 1950s). I began photography in earnest in the 1990s, when I was exhibiting my color photos widely in New England, with solo exhibitions in Boston and Maine as well as group exhibitions in Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont. I switched to digital photography in the mid 2000s. Subsequent exhibitions include a solo exhibition of ‘romantic’ Italian landscapes at the Museum of Viniculture in Tuscany in 2007 and a group exhibition at the New Art Center in New York City in 2008. My solo exhibition at the New Art Center in New York City in 2009 showed a wider range of images from Japan, Italy, and India. My solo exhibition focused on imaginedlandscapes at the Galleria Mentana in Florence, Italy, in 2010 highlighted different parts of Italy. My solo exhibition entitled at the NY Center for Photography and the Moving Image in New York in 2011 featured new work on mountain landscapes from the US Southwest, the Italian Dolomites, and the Norwegian fjords. My latest exhibitions at Harvard’s Center for European Studies and at the Italian Consulate in Boston focus on Italy’s historical landscapes, urban and rural, with a mix of new and older works. Recent group exhibitions include group shows at the Tornatora Gallery in Rome, the De Marchi Gallery in Bologna, the Galleria Mentana in Florence, the Primopiano Gallery in Lecce, Italy, and the Studio Vogue Gallery in Toronto.

About the work:

My landscapes serve as evocations of place and time, and are intended to bring to mind artists’ renderings over the ages. I see the re-imaging process (via photoshop) as akin to stripping away layers of old paint to uncover the masterpiece hidden beneath—but in this case, I strip away layers of the real landscape to reveal artists’ depictions of places we recognize, even if we have never been there.

In some cases, my images are post-photographic, as semi-abstract images that bear little resemblance to reality but are nonetheless familiar, as real places that, although reimagined, nonetheless retain the outlines of the original photograph. A number of these post-photographic can be seen in my images of cityscapes as well as landscapes in Italy in particular, whether Rome, Amalfi, or Tuscany. Other images tend to be hyper-real, going only slightly beyond the expected. This is true for most of my work on mountains. These are landscapes that, although closer to the real, remain nevertheless somehow ethereal, and still correspond to the landscapes of our dreams.

Post-photographic Images: The process of stripping away the surface layers of the original photograph may uncover images that evoke the work of the impressionists, surrealists, pointillistes, and all manner of modern artist, like Hundertwasser or Klee. Or it may instead suggest the work of older artists, sometimes the English landscape artists of the eighteenth century, other times Italian Renaissance artists’ stylized landscapes.

The re-imaging is sometimes radical: turning a sunset over a darkened village in southern Italy into a brilliantly colored scene that looks something like Hundertwasser’s toy houses; or turning a Hawaiian coast at sunset into a gouache of purples, greens and browns that could have been by Monet—had he ever been to Hawaii. In these cases, what remains of the original photo is only the underlying form, like the invisible artist’s sketch on a canvas before applying the oil paints.

Hyper-Real Images: This process serves to intensify the existing reality. Most of the mountain landscapes are intended to show the traces of human presence. Some of these are meant to evoke a sense of the eternal smallness of man in the vastness of nature, others the effects of our constant presence. That smallness can be seen in the tiny stick figures that appear, here and there, on a peak in the Dolomites, or in a crag overlooking the Grand Canyon. Our presence is apparent in the Navajo trailers that play foreground to the Monument Valley monuments, or in the row of shacks that align perfectly with the last ray of sunlight tracing a yellow road in the flat of the valley in front of the Mittens. But sometimes, it is just the headlights at dawn that signal a human presence.

Other times, it is only the record of our passage that appears, whether in the serpentine roads that scar the slopes of the Dolomite mountains, in the mule paths down into the Grand Canyon, in the cables of the telecabine draped between peaks on the Pordoi Pass, or in the memories of the Old West that rise with the dust kicked up by cars at the end of a day among the Monuments in the Valley.

But the effects of our presence are also there even when man is unseen, in the melting glaciers of the Norwegian fjords as well as in the massing clouds above them. Climate change has dramatically reduced these glaciers, which only a few years before the image was taken had covered the rock face, and reached all the way down to what is now a lake.

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My earlier photos focused mainly on doors, windows, and houses in various states of decay, as witness to our abandonment of place and our inability to control nature over time, as it creeps back in, making for tumbled down houses, crumbling walls, and flaking wood. These are now embedded in the larger canvas of my landscapes, as traces of the human presence in nature and our effects on it.

Having switched to digital photography from color slide film (cibachrome process) in the mid-2000s, I used this as the opportunity to take my photography to another level, from an emphasis on faithful reproduction to a more imaginative recreation of mood.