“That was the Jewish girl’s boogeyman”: Photographer Collier Schorr on how visiting Germany shaped her thinking about art and masculinity

This summer, MACK is releasing the third volume in the Forests and Fields artist book series by American photographer Collier Schorr. Titled August, The book includes two decades of Polaroids that Schorr took during his annual trips to Schwäbisch Gmünd, a town in southern Germany. Unlike the previous two volumes which focused on the natural landscape and local people, August is home to a group of youngsters that Schorr returned to year after year, sometimes casting them as models in Bundeswehr uniforms.

Though widely known as a fashion photographer, Schorr’s artistic practice extends far beyond glossy magazine covers; in resonant still lifes and portraits, she explores issues of nationality, religion, sexuality, and gender. Schorr’s repeated visits to Germany included examining her own Jewish identity. In an exclusive interview with Art21 filmed in 2003, Schorr explained her interest in military history and masculinity.

When the artist first arrived in the countryside, she was drawn to the picturesque rural setting, which was at odds with what she had always thought of as the countryside: a place of trauma. “I’ve always seen it from the side of the Jew who felt victimized or the Jew who felt oppressed. I felt very comfortable in this role for many years. But when I was in Germany for a longer period of time, my experience changed,” she said. After snapping pictures of young German boys playing hide-and-seek and wrestling, Schorr decided to enact imaginary battles and scenes of military occupation populated by contemporary youth.

“A lot of my work – particularly portraits of tall, blond, strong men – is really about confronting an Aryan myth that terrified me as a little girl,” Schorr explained. “I would read books like that Diary of Anne Frank… and you were afraid of that. That was the Jewish girl’s boogeyman, the tall blond guy coming up the stairs.”

“Gender, religion, nationality, these are all things that are in flux in my work,” said Schorr. “They all build on each other, this notion that you’re not sure what you’re seeing — suggesting you’re not sure what you are, you’re not sure what someone else is.”

Watch the video originally published as part of the Art21 series art in the 21st century, under. Collier Schorr’s new book “August” is available now.

This is an episode of Art on Video, a collaboration between Artnet News and Art21, bringing you clips of artists making news. A new season of the flagship series of the non-profit Art21 Art in the twenty-first century is now available on PBS. Catch all episodes of other series, such as New York up close and Extended playand learn more about the organization’s educational programs at Art21.org.

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