INTERVIEW: Gregor Shmatz
To celebrate our launch Fòcas Scotland features powerful work by five photographers exploring community, identity, and culture in Scotland and India today.
German born Gregor Schmatz has a distinctive eye for Scotland’s cultural and economic warp and weft. His work has shown in the USA as part of Boston’s Flash Forward Festival.
F: Can you tell us a little about your background and how you got into photography?
G: I was born in Germany but I grew up in Luxembourg. In 2015 I graduated in Photography from Edinburgh Napier University. My venture in photography really started by planning my post high school gap year in Australia. I figured the trip warranted a DSLR and once I had it I really fell in love with the medium. I always had a creative outlet or interest, which was mostly dominated by music; photography fell in my lap when I wasn’t that passionate about music anymore, so perhaps it also filled that creative gap.
F: We love your Amerikane series. I must admit I did think they were taken in America till I read the text about the project. How did the project come about?
G: For exactly that reason.. The year before I started the project I did a camping trip around Sweden with my girlfriend and we noticed all these American cars. At first we thought there must be a car related festival but we realized it was just another Sunday and people are simply really into the American car culture. At the time I hadn’t been to the US but seeing the cars in the Swedish landscape it looked exactly like I imagined a stereotypical American road trip. Additionally my girlfriend needed a topic for her anthropology dissertation, so we did the trip the following year. Two years later I actually revisited some places and finalized the series. Apart from the visual intrigue it also just seemed a fun project to do.
F: What was your process when working on it?
G: The first time we had a pretty good idea of what we would do everyday, Linnea would interview people etc and I would shoot, for my project, we drove all over the place. I even shot way too much, because I didn’t know yet what I wanted from the project so I sort of shot it from every angle.. It took me forever to edit the final set of images. The second time I knew what I wanted and it felt more like I knew what I was doing which was nice as well.
F: The palette, lighting and composition of your work remind me of film stills or vintage postcards of America even if the images weren’t taken there. Did any particular photographers or films inspire you?
G: I have times where I actively look at a lot of work but most of the time it ends up messing with me and I have to centre myself, but I think everybody has that. Overall I think FSA photographs, Stephen Shore, Thomas Struth always have an influence on me. I think the film still effect comes with maintaining a certain distance to the whole scene. I didn’t want it to be a “jump in head first” documentary series, and the palette probably has a vintage touch because a lot of images are shot on medium format (first trip was all digital though). I think that’s the cocktail I was sort of working with.
F: Can you talk a little bit about what it’s like being a photographer in Scotland right now?
G: I am not pursuing it as much as I could or should for it to be my full time work. Since I am self employed my focus is split, however I think becoming a successful photographer is always ambitious and no matter where, I think if you hustle enough with a bit of luck on your side it’ll work out. Having said that photo editors do prefer it when you are in London etc. but that just means you have to prove yourself a little bit more, and travel a bit more. Overall though I am not sure if I can give a good answer to that.
F: What’s next? Have you any ongoing / new projects you are working on?
G: I am just finalizing a new project, a typology of Koffieshops in the Netherlands. Plus I will reorganize my work and update my website so there will actually be a lot of new stuff on there soon.
Gregor Schmatz is a German born Photographer who grew up in Luxembourg and currently lives in Edinburgh, Scotland. He graduated from the Photography and Film course at Edinburgh Napier University in 2015. His work has since been exhibited and published nationally and internationally.