Michael Schmidt 1945 - 2014

Last month saw the passing of the award-winning photographer Michael Schmidt, who died on 24 May at the age of 68, following an illness. It comes just days after winning the prestigious Prix Pictet award, which focuses on social and environmental challenges. Schmidt also opened the Werkstatt für Photographie (Workshop for Photography) in 1976, which helped establish him as one of the most prominent German photographers of the era. 

Lebensmittel (Foodstuffs), the body of work for which he won the Prix Pictet, was completed over a period of seven years during which time Schmidt explored global food production. It was the first project for which he had used colour film, having previously worked exclusively in black and white while famously documenting post-war Berlin with a sense of melancholia and sadness through the 70’s and 80’s. 

Schmidt’s early work existed in the middle of black and white, casting a somber greyscale over his subject matters and directing his images in a very detached manner, removed from sentiment. He stated, “For me, black and white are always the darkest grey and the lightest grey”.

In the following years, his approach to photography changed. He began shooting more and more for each project, using editing heavily to formulate series of images and moved away from the idea of photography as ‘the single image’. This transition led to a number of famed photobooks, including Waffenruhe, which was included in Parr and Badger’s The Photobook: A History Vol. 2. The series explored Berlin just before The Wall came down, with much more intense imagery that looked towards the dislocation of Germany at the time.

He is survived by his wife, Karin, and his daughter. 

Lebensmittel is on show at the V&A as part of the Prix Prictet award until June 14. 

— James Brown