Paradise Found: Portrait Photography From Paris To The Pacific With Fred Stichnoth

Fred Stichnoth studied photography using large format cameras as an assistant to German portrait artist, Walter Schels.

When the world is at your feet, turning your back on it is a big call. But most of us are not Fred Stichnoth. The German-born, Bali-based photographer relinquished life as a celebrity and fashion photographer in the late nineties, where he was poised for popularity, in order to decamp to the East Indies and collect shells. It’s a move that has yielded a distinctive body of work. Stichnoth’s portraiture bears the hallmarks of his haute couture pedigree, applied to natural and exotic subjects.

Stichnoth, studied photography using large format cameras as an assistant to German portrait artist, Walter Schels. After a star-studded career photographing the likes of Chrissy Hynde, Wim Wenders, Pink Floyd and Nina Hagen, as well as directing high fashion shoots for European magazines, the next obvious step was a move to Paris. But overwhelming him was a longing for peace and nature. “I reached a point where I knew I could not expand unless I moved permanently to one of the fashion capitals. I had fallen in love with fashion photography but I realised I also had a wish to create my own visions, far away from commercial work,” explains Stichnoth. “My friends would say, you must be so happy now you are photographing haute couture. And I would think, I’d be much happier collecting shells on the beach!”

“I reached a point where I knew I could not expand unless I moved permanently to one of the fashion capitals. I had fallen in love with fashion photography but I realised I also had a wish to create my own visions, far away from commercial work. My friends would say, you must be so happy now you are photographing haute couture. And I would think, I’d be much happier collecting shells on the beach!” ~ Fred Stichnoth

Without a backward glance, Stichnoth landed in Indonesia and dug his toes in the sand. “As soon as I arrived there was no real contact with my previous life in Germany. I was one hundred percent in my new place.“ After two months in his new home, Stichnoth began photographing portraits. “There was no commercial idea, no customer, no makeup or styling team, no pressure. If something did not work it was my mistake. Without the disturbance of others, I could look for the ultimate photo. It was very exciting!”

Surrounded by Balinese culture, the temples and Legong dancers were an instant draw for Stichnoth. “I decided to photograph what surrounded me, not as true documentation, but captured like portraits in a photo studio instead. I didn’t have a photo studio so I started photographing the Legong dancers outside. In order to do that I created a gray background by hanging cloth wherever I was. That’s how it all started.” From here Stichnoth has been able to explore some of the remotest areas in the East Indies and the tribes that call these places home. A home that is fast disappearing, along with their customs, legends, ceremony and regalia.

“I decided to photograph what surrounded me, not as true documentation, but captured like portraits in a photo studio instead. In order to do that I created a gray background by hanging cloth wherever I was. That’s how it all started.” ~ Fred Stichnoth

Stichnoth’s portraiture studies the beauty of women and ethnic culture using a unique combination borne out of necessity and unconscious influence. He employs an old fashioned technique whereby a backdrop is used to separate the subject from their surroundings. This juxtaposition is striking when the subject is so obviously separated from their natural environment. He also uses motifs and poses that echo the stylised productions in fashion magazines. The final picture comes together like an ethereal sculpture, caught on photographic paper.

Young Girl With Hornbill Headdress, New Guinea, 2016

“It’s not easy to achieve this kind of minimalist portraiture. My years as a fashion photographer have been very helpful for me in order to style different sittings. The costumes of indigenous tribes, for instance, are fashion in their own way, and they continue to change and develop. I am touched by the visual richness of different cultures: their beauty, their simplicity, their pride. And I just want to capture that before it disappears”, explains Fred.

Growing up, Fred Stichnoth was always drawn to adventure movies set in tropical locations. “I love ancient themes, from Egypt to Indonesia. I’ve spent a long time traveling around the world, being drawn to what is considered taboo,” he says. So, it was a dream come true when he located from his native Germany to the Indonesian Island of Bali. From here he has been able to explore some of the remotest areas in the East Indies and the tribes that call these places home. A home that is fast disappearing, along with their customs, legends, ceremony and regalia.

On Friday, August 3rd we release part two of this blog which details Fred’s stunning East Indies series. This wonderful series will be available via Addicted on Monday, August 6th.

Written by Skye Wellington

Originally published by Addicted Art Gallery