All images © Kristian Schuller / Hatje Cantz
FOR ACCLAIMED FASHION photographer Kristian Schuller, his recent return to Berlin is a homecoming in the truest sense. Born in Halchiu, Romania, Schuller emigrated to Berlin with his parents as a child, where his university years at UdK saw him studying fashion design with Vivienne Westwood and photography with F.C. Gundlach. From there an international trajectory of increasing recognition took him from London to Paris to New York, where he became one of the fashion world’s most sought-after photographers, shooting international celebrities for some of the world’s biggest style magazines.
Anton’s Berlin (named for Schuller’s son Anton but meant, in his own words, for “all young people”) is a stylistic homecoming as well, reveling in the DIY set and costume constructions of his pre-fame years. The photos that make up the book are on the whole darker and stranger, yet also more whimsical, than even what the more adventurous fashion shoots would cover: its subjects cover the entire spectrum of body types and genders, and are just as likely to be nude as clothed. The costumes themselves, as well as the backdrops, have a raw, hand-wrought feel which they proudly display.
The baroque drapings, rough furnishings, and ragged angel wings that frame the subjects were created by the photographer’s wife and long-time collaborator Peggy Schuller, and it is arguably her vision that elevates these photos into a realm beyond that of standard photography. In addition to standard costume and set materials, she uses organic materials like leaves, flowers, and sand to powerful effect. There is an undeniable element of storytelling in the shots, and many of the subjects appear as broken dolls, fallen angels, or unattended marionettes who have stepped out of their stories and wandered into a fallen, modern world. Those featuring the actress Lera Ábova in particular (who appears on the book’s cover, and in multiple other photographs throughout) convey an incredible range of emotions that run the gamut from glamorous to tragic to comedic. While most shots are taken in the literal underground of Schuller’s basement studio, they are interspersed from time to time with double-page outdoor panoramas, in which subjects are backgrounded by Berlin’s gardens, cemeteries, and block housing in poignant stagings that convey both mythology and intimacy.
At heart, Schuller is still a fashion photographer, and glamour abounds in the book, as does celebrity. International stars like Heidi Klum, Penélope Cruz, and Léa Seydoux appear alongside much more obscure and underground names, but no shot is undertaken purely for the sake of beauty or glamour. Rather, each photograph shows a tremendous respect for its subject, its setting, and for the atmosphere they create together.
Hatje Cantz, €48