“I’d like to start a mentorship movement that puts reverence in the wisdom of elders” With Amanda Scheer Demme
As our society ages and people are living longer, I think I would start a movement around mentorship that puts great reverence in the wisdom of elders. A movement that highlights people 50 plus that are dope and on top of their game as examples in how to live — and while we are at it, I might just have this movement bring back age as sexy. Sadly, it seems we are coming to a place, where there is a lack of respect for experience, and that is partly my generation’s fault, in creating advertising and marketing that focused the glamour of being young. What I think that many of today’s young people fail to realize, is that they are standing on the shoulders of giants — giants in the women’s movement, the civil rights movement, the LGBTQ movement and so much more. We are at a place where it is the best time in history to be all of those things, and at the same time, I thank goodness that today’s youth have the opportunity to take those things for granted. In thinking about this question I would create a movement that puts a spotlight on the those people who have endured and lead by example over the course of decades. I would put a spotlight on the value of mentorship, sophistication, worldliness, grace, forbearance and savoir-faire.
I had the pleasure to interview Amanda Scheer Demme. Amanda is an American photographer and creative director. Her work was described by the LA Times as “emotional and dark, even cinematic.” In addition to her fine art photography, Demme has shot editorially for New York Times, Interview, New York Magazine and many other leading publications. Her work for commercial clients extends across fashion, beauty and entertainment. Demme conceptualized and shot the award winning July 2015 cover story “Cosby: The Women.” which galvanized discussions about sexual assault on social media via #theemptychair.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you give us some background on your career path and what brought you here?
I’ve had many careers leading up to my role as a photographer. All of them as a creative director and social architect, using art to influence human emotion and the human connection. From interior design to music, to video and film production to creating some of the most popular night clubs in Los Angeles, all of my roles have been focused on making people feel alive and present through various art forms.
The pivot to become a photographer came after my Husband, the director Ted Demme, died suddenly of a heart attack. I was going through the bereavement process, I was in denial and felt isolated. I was angry and very, very depressed. I felt alienated and became reclusive and I had a lot of time to think. When acceptance started to appear, I felt I needed to do something different, to reinvent myself as a way to emerge from that funk and an evolved person. I had always dabbled in painting and sculpture and I decided I would take a journey much deeper into visual art. So, I made a conscious decision to dedicate this time to study light. I ended up creating a series called MILK — which was a feature about my innocent little kids — The symbol of what ted and I had built together. This began my journey to use light to understand humanity and capture the true essence of people. Capturing the true essence of remarkable women is what I’m focused on right now through my latest project, The Future of Women.
Can you share the most interesting experience that’s happened since you started your career?
There are so many, but one that stands out right now is meeting all the women who were victims of Bill Cosby, which became #TheEmptyChair story. It was my role to be a listener and to approach the subject by having no opinions whatsoever. This was paradoxical, being someone who is outspoken to a fault, now having to convey the sentiments of women who could not speak.
The experience of connecting with these women and having all these women open up to me in a very safe environment — made me want to give them a voice and give them back the self-esteem that was ripped away from them. It made me want to use my art to instill a feeling of pride and put power back in their hands. I am so honored and so thankful to New York Magazine and those women for trusting me.
Did you make any mistakes you when you were first starting? Can you tell us a lesson you learned from it?
I would have liked to have started earlier as a photographer. If I were to do it again I would have apprenticed with so many people. When you start late in life nobody wants you as their student. They think you are already experienced or you are too old to learn. Today, young people want to be famous yesterday and grow up as fast as they can. The best advice I could give to any young person who wants to be an artist would be to learn from as many people as possible. For many reasons, it is harder to be a student when you are older. I wish I could be a student again because almost everything I did, I learned on my own -and though that sounds empowering, it is less than ideal.
What do you think makes your work stand out? Can you cite an example?
I always wanted to be a painter — a photorealistic painter — but I could paint abstractly — so I developed a style of photography where I shoot and capture my subjects like they are in a painting. It is an old world portraiture style where the light is coming in from a single point and it is about capturing the essence of a person. You’ll find that in many of my images people are not smiling. In most photographs people are told to smile but I never felt that was about honesty. I am more interested in conveying what they are thinking and the true sentiment of who they are, or at least who they are at that moment. That, said, someday I will do a series of people just smiling — and I would want to study of the effect of smiles on the human psyche.
What advice would you give to a colleague in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Get a real job — if you are going to depend on making a living as a photographer it is probably the lowest paying job out there. A union truck driver probably makes more money, with much better benefits. Because it is so easy to be a photographer in the 21st century, there are just so many. Today it is important for a photographer to find their angle and to be a creative director as well. That is what separates the great ones today from all the rest, you have to be a big picture leader and master every aspect of the art — from lighting, to printing, to art direction. That said, if there is anything else you could possibly do, I would do that. It also helps to be born rich.
Is there a particular person that you’re grateful for who has helped you get to where you are?
The editors from NY Magazine and everyone who hires me and gives me an opportunity to be paid for creating my art. I am also grateful for the subjects who sit for me — like Juaquin Phoenix for letting me shoot his beautiful face. I am grateful to Shawn Gold who brought me into TechStyle Fashion Group’s women’s empowerment initiative, The Future of Women, and for all the great producers who make these shoots happen.
How is the Future of Women empowering girls?
The Future of Women was launched by TechStyle Fashion Group to spread the stories of powerful, creative and innovative women who can serve as an inspiration to others. I worked with TechStyle to capture these women in a series of portraits, which are on display at TheFutureOfWomen.org alongside their incredible stories. We’re taking the project on the road by creating small galleries at conferences across the country where the portraits will be displayed, while photographing female speaking and helping to amplify their stories. We hope the portraits can inspire young women to challenge the status quo, just like our subjects have.
Are you working on any other particularly exciting projects right now?
I just shot the cover of New York Times Magazine with Gwyneth Paltrow and you can see a lot of my recent work on my Instagram account. Some of the more exciting things I am working on right now, I have to keep a secret until they come out.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
That’s what I can achieve with the Future of Women together with TechStyle. The biggest thing I do is to use my art to allow people express themselves to be part of imagery that makes people stop and think. I donate time when I can and prefer to work with charities involving children. Lastly, I have raised two very kind, aware and conscious children of my own that will hopefully continue a ripple effect of goodness and thoughtful perspective in this world.
Can you share “5 Things Anyone Can Do To Take Stunning Photos”, and an example for each?
· Shoot amazing subjects who can act as a muse
· Shoot in beautiful locations
· Don’t underestimate the value of a good hair and make-up
· Clothes can create amazing drama
· Light, light, light, it is all about light. I like to shoot in the warm light at the end of the day, but I also like blue light of a foggy gloomy day.
If you could start a movement that would bring a great amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
As our society ages and people are living longer, I think I would start a movement around mentorship that puts great reverence in the wisdom of elders. A movement that highlights people 50 plus that are dope and on top of their game as examples in how to live — and while we are at it, I might just have this movement bring back age as sexy.
Sadly, it seems we are coming to a place, where there is a lack of respect for experience, and that is partly my generation’s fault, in creating advertising and marketing that focused the glamour of being young.
What I think that many of today’s young people fail to realize, is that they are standing on the shoulders of giants — giants in the women’s movement, the civil rights movement, the LGBTQ movement and so much more. We are at a place where it is the best time in history to be all of those things, and at the same time, I thank goodness that today’s youth have the opportunity to take those things for granted. In thinking about this question I would create a movement that puts a spotlight on the those people who have endured and lead by example over the course of decades. I would put a spotlight on the value of mentorship, sophistication, worldliness, grace, forbearance and savoir-faire.