Fotograf Magazine

Michael Schmelling


The most intriguing aspect of the work of Michael Schmelling is definitely his ability to stand on intersections. It is not important whether this is a consequence or the reason that he is (or was) simultaneously a photojournalist, artist, designer and editor associated with the intellectual and tenderly ironic American photobook scene as well as music magazines. Perhaps it is because he is from Pittsburgh. Alongside books which combine conceptual work with curiosity and lightness, such as Land Line (built on the USA Memory Championships, J&L Books, 2013) or The Plan (about hoarding, J&L Books, 2009), his main topic is music. He photographed Wilco (The Wilco Book, PictureBox, 2004), at a time when photobooks were not yet regular items in marketing plans, and his exhibition of last year Your Blues followed the music scene in Chicago. But the most interesting is the space he has pioneered in an area that barely existed until recently, the border between hip hop and predominantly white art and editorial photography and thinking about music. Golfwang (PictureBox, 2011), a book which he designed and co-edited, is a monument to Odd Future, a crew which being “too black for the white kids, and too white for the blacks”, has taken the aesthetic and ideology of skate/punk into hip hop. Atlanta (Chronicle Books, 2010) takes as its subject matter the current capital of black music, from bedroom studios where music is made to strip clubs where some of the tracks become hits. The photos in Atlanta often look like radical, typography-free version of The Wire magazine, like screenshots of computer-generated game worlds or a combination of William Eggleston and Harmony Korine in some kind of post-Internet rendering. Details and abstract decontextualized areas lack the verbosity we normally associate with both documentary photography and the embellishment of hip hop, making the project shot between 2007 and 2009 strangely timeless even in the extremely transient environment of popular music.

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