Inside the Artists' Studios

Artists II, a continuation of the series photographer Jason Schmidt has been pursuing since the beginning of his career, pulls back the curtain on some of the most influential artists working today.

Jason Schmidt

"I first started taking pictures seriously when I was 20 years old and a lot of my friends were fledgling artists—it seemed far more interesting to shoot them than the typical things young photographers take pictures of, like family, girlfriends, whatever," says Jason Schmidt. The art photographer shoots artists in their personal spaces and is about to release Artists II, a follow-up to his 2007 book of the same name. His portraits eschew the typical close-up format and instead situate the artists in their natural environments, often with their own work.

"You can understand something about an artist from their face, but not as much as seeing all the clutter and materials and half-made artworks you find in a studio," Schmidt says. "I like to take the photos with the artists as much as of the artists, meaning figuring out the best way to depict the studio and the practice of each person in a singular image."

Artists II (Steidl), $70, artbook.com.

The new book includes shots of Cindy Sherman, Jeff Wall, Miranda July, Cai Guo-Qiang, and Olafur Eliasson, to name a few, but, even after two books, Schmidt still has some artists on his list to cross off. "Anselm Kiefer, David Hammons, Robert Gober," he says, unequivocally. "Three artists who rarely—never, really—sit for photographs. Plus I am a great fan of each of them."

The only solution, of course, is another book, and Artists III is very much in progress. "I had no idea I would still be doing this some 20 years after I started, but I still very much enjoy it, specifically going to an artist's studio, seeing what that's like, talking to them for a few minutes or a few hours," Schmidt says. The project, he admits, "is, in certain ways, an excuse to meet the artists. The photos are just a document of that studio visit."

Here Schmidt takes us behind the scenes of five of his favorite photographs from the new book.

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Cory Arcangel

"At the end of 2008 I saw Cory Arcangel's show Adult Contemporary at Team Gallery, and it made me very happy. I particularly remember 'Permanent Vacation,' which was simply two iMacs on an Ikea table stuck in a 'out of office' email loop, which still makes me laugh when I think about it. Soon after seeing the show I was able to track down Cory and took this picture of him in his studio. No romantic atelier with skylights, cigarettes, and Savarin coffee tins filled with paint brushes, nope: just a couple of computers, an old ink-jet plotter, and a bunch of storage bins with Nintendo game controllers clearly visible."

Joe Bradley

"Joe's paintings don't look like this so much anymore, but for a couple years all I think he was making were these abstract block paintings that had a totemic quality to them. The more I saw of them, the more the imagery got frozen in my head: weirdly powerful. Somehow I didn't realize how anthropomorphic they were until I was looking at the contact sheet many days later.

Also, just to say: the fact that his paintings are quite different now is something I really enjoy about this project—they are moments in time. The artist's work changes over years, and any work in progress looked different the day after I shot it, as opposed to the final work, which is documented and then sealed."

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Elad Lassry

"It's always kind of a trip to take pictures of other photographers, although Elad works in all other kinds of media as well. When I visited Elad's studio there was a set built for a photograph he had just made with an actor [who was] placed pretty much in the spot where Elad is in this photo. Elad and I agreed that it would be interesting to treat him in the manner in which he was taking pictures of other people. I always like the idea of the artist's aesthetic taking over my photograph and I get to sort of disappear… provoking the artist into taking a self-portrait?"

Ryan McGinness

"I generally prefer to shoot artists in their studios, where the artist is surrounded by all the elements going into the art, and see the process unfold. But this Ryan McGinness show at Deitch projects allowed for a different kind artist emersion—or should that be submersion? Incredibly intricate sculptures rested on pedestals in the middle of the gallery with large wild canvases on the walls behind, allowing one to stand in between [the artworks]. And if you kind of frame your gaze with your hands, like a hokey movie director gesture, you can crop in and get lost into a total 3-D McGinness world. He called the works 'Mindscapes,' and I could not resist getting Ryan right into that spot.

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Sarah Morris

"This was shot in Sarah's home in Midtown Manhattan, across from the UN Building. I share Sarah's great interest in Modernist architecture, so it was very easy to be inspired by this carpet that was based on one of her paintings that itself was informed by Modern architecture and then situated in her living room with that view. She had to be sitting for the photo as it was at least a 30-second exposure."

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