Phebe Schmidt Photographer Interview: The Plasticity of the Mundane

“My aim is to draw the viewer in with bright cheesy colours and curious props, on second glance they realise that something is not quite right, floating razors or a melting block of cheese often placed together with a profiled product. Conceptually, my props are generally exploring concepts of stylised beauty. ” – Phebe Schmidt

Phebe Schmidt Photography

In the hands of photographer Phebe Schmidt, everyday objects are set against backdrops that make one do a double take. With a refined and polished style, she highlights ideas of consumerism and stylized beauty through the recontextualization of mundane props as well as the exploration of “plasticity”, or the ability of an object to shapeshift with its environment. The resulting works feel curious, having an effect similar to staring at something for so long that it begins to feel unreal by nature, its fine details becoming confusions within the mass of its existence.

“My aim is to draw the viewer in with bright cheesy colours and curious props; on second glance, they realise that something is not quite right — floating razors or a melting block of cheese often placed together with a profiled product,” explains Schmidt, who gathers a number of props specific to each shoot, chosen both for their aesthetic and conceptual values.

Phebe Schmidt Photography

Phebe Schmidt Photography
When placed within Schmidt’s neatly crafted displays, everything from a fine pair of shoes, a potted house plant, a seafoam dish sponge, or a vinyl surgical glove begin to bend one’s conception of everyday life, while simultaneously evoking the sparseness of Scandinavian design.

“I want people to feel that same sense of lack when looking at my work as they do when looking at an advertisement,” she says, “then re-examine that sense of lack when they notice the imperfections that wouldn’t be present in a typical advertisement. I think that feeling means different things to different people, so I’d rather not dictate a clear set of ideas that are essential to the viewing of my work.”

Schmidt’s work falls in nicely with current trends in brightly-colored still life photographies as well as vaporwave aesthetics — but Schmidt is very much marching by the beat of her own drum. First and foremost, she creates to satisfy herself, in contrast to the need for acceptance in mainstream beauty and consumerism.

“I gravitate towards props that have an everyday use (pet brushes, aquatic plants, vases) and place them in a hyperreal landscape as if positioned and conceptualised for an advertisement. I enjoy experimenting with object placement to add a surreal quality to my work — often suspending and/or reimagining props.” – Phebe Schmidt

Phebe Schmidt PhotographyPhebe Schmidt PhotographyPhebe Schmidt PhotographyPhebe Schmidt Photography

“I am not concerned with how my work falls into trends,” she says. “I don’t make it to satisfy the latest trend; I make it to satisfy my own obsession with plasticity, colour and artificiality. If you think my work is representative of a zeitgeist, great, but honouring my aesthetic is about creating a framework that then frees me to focus on the process and play with subject/objects and props.”

Nonetheless, Schmidt is “not opposed to exploring different aesthetics [and] frameworks”, though change in her visual world is slow-changing and she has no plans to dramatically shift her visual scope in the near future.

“In the past, my work has gradually progressed over time, and I believe it will continue to do so in the future. I feel this is a natural progression,” she explains. “I am currently experimenting with a portrait series, using a modified lighting technique to what I have used in the past. The series, much like my past work, is exploring themes of a contemporary obsession with homogenised, generic beauty ideals that conform to gender, social and cultural norms.”


Selected Works & Series from Phebe Schmidt

About Face

About Face was an exhibition curated by Michelle Dylan Huynh and Stacy Jewell exhibited at No Vacancy Gallery, incorporating still life photographs and video works of seven Melbourne photographers. I exhibited my Surgical Series — works that play with ideas associated with correcting imperfections/deformities and the equipment used to perform these procedures.

Phebe SchmidtPhebe Schmidt



Browser, curated by Alexandra McCloud-Gibson was a project that connects fashion designers and artists in a collaborative capacity. I exhibited my Hermetically Sealed series – an investigation of the body as object.

Phebe Schmidt


It’s That Sometimes You Move Too Loud

Curated by Sharon Flynn, It’s That Sometimes You Move Too Loud, explores uncertainty in the creation of one’s identity. My series, Entrapment, explores the pressure to conform to the norm.

Phebe SchmidtPhebe Schmidt


Written by
Vee Hua 華婷婷

Vee Hua 華婷婷 (they/them) is a writer, filmmaker, and organizer with semi-nomadic tendencies. Much of their work unifies their metaphysical interests with their belief that art can positively transform the self and society. They are the Editor-in-Chief of REDEFINE, Interim Managing Editor of South Seattle Emerald, and Co-Chair of the Seattle Arts Commission. They also previously served as the Executive Director of the interdisciplinary community hub, Northwest Film Forum, where they played a key role in making the space more welcoming and accessible for diverse audiences.

Vee has two narrative short films. Searching Skies (2017) touches on Syrian refugee resettlement in the United States; with it, they helped co-organize The Seventh Art Stand, a national film and civil rights discussion series against Islamophobia. Reckless Spirits (2022) is a metaphysical, multi-lingual POC buddy comedy for a bleak new era, in anticipation of a feature-length project.

Vee is passionate about cultural space, the environment, and finding ways to covertly and overtly disrupt oppressive structures. They also regularly share observational human stories through their storytelling newsletter, RAMBLIN’ WITH VEE!, and are pursuing a Master’s in Tribal Resource and Environmental Stewardship under the Native American Studies Department at the University of Minnesota.

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Written by Vee Hua 華婷婷
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