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The fab new photo book dedicated to Norbert Schoerner’s Y2K Prada shoots

With Luchford’s saturated, cinematic approach to image-making behind him, Schoerner ushered in a stripped-back, minimalist era that’s now regurgitated across social media archive sites on a near constant basis. 

His photographs spoke to the sensibilities of Prada’s collections perhaps more than any other creative who stepped behind the camera for the house, with close-ups of wrinkled mesh underwear, slipping socks and bra-straps, and (almost) unedited, textured skin all part of an aesthetic rooted in realism. 

Now, Schoerner’s influential era is documented in a must-have new book doled out by everyone’s fave fashion tome purveyor, IDEA. As pragmatic and un-glossy as his approach to his Prada campaigns was, Norbert Schoerner Prada Archive: 1998-2002 is devoid of any explanatory text or introductory essay, and bears a unique hole-punched design. 

“We were thinking about the next step with it,” explains Schoerner. “Could the book become modular? There are so many materials and elements we haven’t used yet. For example, at some stage we want to maybe publish some of my lighting plans, and the test Polaroids we took. Could it be that these releases are collected altogether in a folder, punched together through the ringbinder holes?” 

Essentially, future publications could drop like those collectable comics you jammed into a folder when you were a kid, only this time, they’re for nerdy fashion adults obsessed with Prada (hi!) With the original book run limited to just 750 copies, it has now sold out, but more will be coming soon – ahead of that, Schoerner discusses his time working with Miuccia, falling asleep on set, and why he hopes he hasn’t taken his best photo yet. 

Hey Norbert! So first of all, I’d love to know how the project came about and the book came to fruition…

I’d been asked to make a book a bunch of times, starting maybe ten or so years ago, but at the time it never really felt right. I didn’t want to look back at that point, I just wanted to look forward and create stuff for now. But then I met the guys from IDEA by sheer coincidence and got to know them a little bit. They suggested now was really a good time to put something out, and I’ve always liked their approach to publishing – the way they come from a collectors background, a bookstore background. It’s not your average publishing model. Plus, the idea of working with Johnny Lu on art direction was very exciting. In the end, we turned it around super quickly: we started talking about it in late November, and it’s coming out now. I hear it’s almost sold out already!

I’m not surprised! Your photos are so iconic and you can see their influence everywhere. And obviously everyone is as obsessed with Prada past and present as they ever were. Going back to the scene, then: how did you first meet Miuccia, what did you talk about, and what kind of creative vision did you share? 

We first met when I was introduced to David James, who was Prada’s art director at the time. He had worked with Glen [Luchford] for a couple of years on the previous campaign, and we ended up chatting when I was in Milan about a potential partnership. Miuccia and I didn’t really talk about fashion very much during our first meeting. It was more of a discussion about art and life. Actually, she had seen my work in an old copy of Dazed, a story I did with Comme des Garcons, and she really liked it. She’s extremely determined when she knows she likes something – basically immediately after the meeting they asked me to join them on the campaign. 

“I really love the first season [AW98], and the image of the shoe coming off Angela [Lindvall]’s heel. We were shooting really late, and everyone was really tired, and as we were discussing the next step, she was sitting there posing, and she just fell asleep with her shoe coming off” – Norbert Shoerner

In the press release that announced the book, I loved what you said about how you’d go into the shoot and not really know what was going to come out of it, and how ideas were often chopped and changed throughout. It feels like a way of working that’s redundant now, due to the pace of fashion. Can you tell me a little bit about what it was like working in that way? Was it specific to Prada at the time? 

No, in a broader sense, it reflects my process and my approach to work, but at that time it’s good to remember you weren’t always presenting these very researched moodboards ahead of shoots. It wasn’t necessarily ‘Oh, this should be like this, and that should be like that’. You weren’t giving tons of references, and the way you started developing an idea was a very different process. Back then, though, you did have the luxury of time, yeah, which was probably one of the biggest differences to how people have to work nowadays. There’s not so much room for experimentation. In fact, there’s basically no room for experimentation. So from one day to the next, we were in the studio, on the actual shoot, modifying what we were doing, testing ideas, and recalibrating throughout. It was never a static way of working, and there was never a need to stick to the rules or the original idea. Now, people have a set day or two days to do a shoot. There’s no wiggle room. 

There’s a lot of talk about nostalgia in fashion and wider culture right now, and how everything that is being done has been done before. You yourself mentioned not wanting to look back when you were first approached about making this book. How do you feel about this tendency for nostalgia, and do you think it’s detrimental to creativity now? 

By no means do I think nostalgia is a bad thing. I have plenty of nostalgia within my own life and work. To me it’s about finding new ways to interpret and recalibrate that to come up with something new. It’s a normal thing within culture to be nostalgic – people have always looked backwards and responded to other work, it’s natural. Every generation or every decade has its own nostalgia, and takes inspiration from that. It just really depends on how literal they end up taking it. I don’t think it’s detrimental to creativity, as long as it’s not replicating it and rather using it to come up with something new.

Your book, and your time working with Prada, picked up where Glen Luchford left off. His photos are really cinematic and feel quite textured and rich, whereas yours are stripped back, to a certain extent – they feel hyperreal and pretty futuristic. What was it like picking up the mantle from him and taking it in this very different direction? 

Glen was actually a friend of mine and I was always a big fan of the work he’d done at Prada before me. I never really thought of my work as futuristic, to be honest. We just created a narrative around the status quo of the moment and added other elements to it. We never went into it thinking ‘Let’s do something hyperreal’. It was about creating a tension between the now and these kinds of contrary environments. But each season is really different – we started from a very different angle each time.

Do you have a favourite photograph or season that stands out from the rest?

Oh it’s really, really hard [laughs]. Maybe that’s also one of the reasons it took such a long time to make this book, because it was so hard to be objective about it. The process and then the stories behind it were so complex, that sometimes it was quite difficult to take a step back and just enjoy an image. 

But, if I really think about it, I’d say I really love the first season, which was AW98, and the image of the shoe coming off Angela’s heel, which has a really interesting story about it. We were shooting really late, and everyone was really tired, and as we were discussing the next step, she was sitting there posing, and she just fell asleep with her shoe coming off. I think it’s amazing, one of my favourite campaigns for sure. There’s so much to it. 

Other than that, I think from a technical point of view, it would have to be Prada Linea Rossa, from SS00. In a way, we really helped pioneer an approach that is ubiquitous nowadays, because we used very early CGI to create racing yachts in the background of the image and almost seamlessly merge it all together. I’m quite proud of that one. 

“[Mrs Prada] had seen my work in an old copy of Dazed, a story I did with Comme des Garçons, and she really liked it. She’s extremely determined when she knows she likes something – basically immediately after the meeting they asked me to join them on the campaign. ” – Norbert Shoerner

What was working with Mrs. P like in terms of her appraising and approving what you’d created? Was there anything she wasn’t into? 

Oh all the time! But it wasn’t like now when you have a day or two to shoot. You had the space to go back and reshoot and adjust if Mrs. Prada felt it was necessary. It was always a fluid process. 

I love the format of the book, with the ringbinder holes that are punched throughout, and the way you suggest people might use them how they see fit. Can you talk me through this idea? 

It came from the basic inspiration that Johnny and his team brought to the project, which was archive materials – so things like library archive binders, folders, erc. I really liked it because it kind of matched what I wanted to do with the book – I wanted there to be a certain level of objectivity and a certain minimalism to it. There’s no text in the book, there’s nothing to explain it – no essay to kick it off. So there was something quite pragmatic about the approach of making it an archive publication. 

Plus, we were thinking about the next step – could the book become modular? There are so many materials and elements that we haven’t used yet. For example, at some stage we want to maybe publish some of my lighting plans, and the test Polaroids we took, to be quite generous with giving a full picture of this period at Prada. Could it then be that those releases are collected altogether in a folder, punched together through the ringbinder holes? There will be more modules coming, basically.

I love the idea of adding different modules to a folder – kind of like those magazines you used to collect as a kid, but for nerdy fashion or photography-obsessed people. And I really like what you said about being generous with the materials – it feels like the opposite of the gatekeeping the industry is known for, with you sharing these educational resources for the next gen of talent who might be interested in your work.

Absolutely, I couldn’t agree more. I think it’s the perfect opportunity to do that. The more we worked on it, the more we understood how important the archive and sharing element was. You’re right that there’s a certain element of gatekeeping in the industry. But I also have to say that back in the 90s and 00s, when I was working for Dazed and The Face there was much more of a sense of community. We all went to the same labs, we’d see each other’s work, and we’d all be chatting about what we were up to. It wasn’t so insular, maybe because the competition is so high now.

More of a general question now. Is there anyone you haven’t photographed that you would love to? Actually, maybe for a Prada campaign – who would you love to capture for the house?

Personally I’d love to shoot Daido Moriyama, who’s one of my favourite photographers. But like me he doesn’t really like having his picture taken, and he’s quite old. But I know him a little bit, so that’s enough.

Okay, final question. What’s your favourite photograph ever, first by someone else, and second, one of your own? 

My own, it’s not static – I hope I still haven’t taken the best picture, you know? But for the time being, the photo series The Nature of Nature, on which I worked with a family of Bonsai masters for five years in Fukushima, Japan. There’s a photo in there that I love. Someone else’s photo? You know that William Eggleston one, of the drink on the airplane? Yeah, that one. Easy!

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  • Source of information and images “dazeddigital

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