Thursday, April 28, 2016

Heather Schmaedeke, Photographer, Tells Her Story

Art has always called me, I’ve always been drawn to it and it’s been the one constant in my life. Over the years the mediums I’ve used and experimented with have changed but the act of creating has not. As a child, art supplies were always my favorite toys with the most readily available things being crayons, pencils, watercolor paints and paper. And, once in a while I could convince my mom to let me take a few pictures with her camera, which was a real treat.

Until I was in 8th grade, all of my artwork was self-guided and taught. Afterwards, I started receiving formal instruction, my first teacher suggested that I start keeping a sketchbook and draw every day and I followed her advice. In high school, the art department had a darkroom and in addition to drawing and painting I began to learn photography. I won a scholarship to study art at Skidmore College in New York the summer after my junior year in high school. The program was 6 weeks long and drew students from all over the world; it was an incredible experience.


Naturally, I pursued my artistic endeavors in college. In addition to the classes required for my major, I took almost every other art elective that was available; ceramics, computer graphics, typography, web design - I just wanted to explore and experiment, to learn as much as possible. What little free time I had was divided between taking photos and working in the darkroom. I’ve always thought that processing negatives and developing my own prints is magical; I love seeing the images reveal themselves.

After graduating, I continued my photographic pursuits however I no longer had ready access to a dark room. I missed the control over and involvement in the process and the switch to digital photography was just beginning. It wasn’t very satisfying to just drop off my negatives and pick up prints - so, my focus switched back to the materials I began working with, pencils, paint and paper. Of course, my exploration of other mediums continued; I took classes and workshops in printmaking, stained glass and stone carving. I am interested in everything, and it’s so much fun to learn how to work and create with other mediums.


I still missed photography and interestingly enough, it was work that got me back into it. Once I picked up that camera I very shortly thereafter had a DSLR of my own and began spending much of my time taking photos again. After almost 2 years at that job, I applied for and was accepted into an artist residency in Berlin, Germany. It was a 3-month self-guided residency with artists from all over the world. Initially, my intention was to combine drawing and painting with photography (which is still something I am interested in). However, the end result was that my focus became photography.

While in Berlin, I was eager to explore the city and see how it would influence my work as well as myself. Consequently, it was very difficult for me to sit still long enough to draw and paint. The speed and ease of photography was much more conducive to my personality and lifestyle.

Rainy Night

I was always on the go and my camera was always with me. A 3-month artist residency turned into a 3.5-year stay in Berlin. Living in Europe provided me so many incredible opportunities to travel and explore and to continue growing personally and artistically. Every time I go out with my camera my goal is to take my new favorite picture.

My photography has been exhibited in a variety of venues in Berlin, Germany and Budapest, Hungary. It was also published in books (Solrevolution & Arabische Welt) and online for a variety of websites (including and on the Berliner Fenster as a Foto des Tages (photo of the day). The Berliner Fenster (Berlin Window) is a TV screen in the public train system that displays news, weather, events, etc. and every day they feature a photo of the day. I also had the privilege of volunteering my photography and graphic design for the Kindertransport Organization Deutschland.

Sky Walking

Since moving back to the States, my work has been included in 3 group exhibits, 2 in Washington D.C. and 1 in Budapest. I’m also an Artist in Residence at Palette 22 in Shirlington, VA.

One of the wonderful things about being an artist in residence is the opportunity to connect with people. It’s great to be able to meet and talk with people that I might not otherwise have the chance to interact with. Photography brings me so much joy and I’m thrilled when other people connect with my work. Art is something very special, it has the ability to transcend the barriers of culture, language and time.

Splish Splash

The images that I’ve included in this post are part of an ongoing “Narrative” project. The photographs are pieces of a story that compel viewer participation. Just as each of us writes the stories of our lives everyday, the viewer is invited to create a narrative of the image, organizing the information, filling in the before and after.

The combination of movement and stillness makes for a dynamic image, which picks up in the middle of a scene. Like our lives, the photographs are pieces of a story, they are not the whole story, but the fragments from which that story is built and grows. The scenes are hiding in the open on the streets. It is my story, your story, our collective story. These stories inform our lives, how we see each other, how we see ourselves and make sense of the world around us. Our stories write the story of our city, our country and our world everyday.


Transience and permanence, capturing the fleeting moments in this series lends them a sense of the permanent. While the environment has some of it’s permanence shaken loose. Just as the world around us is not as permanent as it seems, we too, are also not as ephemeral.

These images, these narratives give us pause to reflect on the nuances of this paradox. In this reflection, we realize that the seemingly contradictory opposites of concrete and ephemeral, kinetic and static, transient and permanent are not inviolable but permeable and fluid. The story is us and it is larger than us.


This is Week 16 of 52 Artists in 52 Weeks. Thank you for reading and sharing Heather's post today! To see more of Heather's work, go to:

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