THE INTERVIEW IN|DEEDS: WHO IS … Stephanie Cornfield

Prologue | Personal

Stephanie, imagine if the pandemic did not dominate our lives at the moment and we could meet in your home or in your studio. Where do we speak together? Maybe we are sitting at your favorite place? We are sitting viewing the indian ocean from my beach house in Bombay facing a coconut tree , we can feel the breeze and delicate sun , it’ s a peaceful morning we hear mostly the waves and the ordinary sounds of Bombay that fuels its charm, an old autorickshaw passing by, the particular sound of the bus, the neighbourhood trinket-peddler, the bell of a milk vendor on his bycicle , the sound of mosques or temples, the sound of a wedding procession, close your eyes and feel the rich soundscape of the most vibrant city in India …Bombay, Bombay rocks !

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Beach house Bombay, view © Stephanie Cornfield

Where do you come from, where were you born when? I come from Paris , I m french with mixed origins on my Dad’ s side it s greek russian romanian and on my Mum’s side it s french italian. How and where do you currently live and work? I m based in Mumbai but I work internationally from Paris to Mumbai Roma Bali LA Shanghai and so on. Which stations and people have shaped you? I think of all the visual art influencing me, like the choreographer Pina Baush with her unique expressionist surrealist style, inspiring greats like David Bowie or Pedro Almodovar. Some film makers inspire me a lot , Mikhail Kalatozov for Soy Cuba, Sergio Leone for Once Upon a Time in America, Wong Kar Wai for Happy Together, Days of being Wild, Chungking Express ,Barbara Loden for Wanda,  Monte Hellman for Two Lane Black Top, Ridley Scott for Blade Runner,Orson Welles for Citizen Kane, Jean Renoir for La Chienne, Darren Aronofsky for Requiem for a dream, Brian de Palma for Scarface, Francis Ford Coppola for the Godfather, Marcel Carne for Les Enfants du Paradis, Scorsese for Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Spike Lee Do the right thing, Pedro Almodovar for Matador, Kubrick for 2001 Space Odyssey, Clockwork Orange, The Shining, Aki Kaurismaki for The Man without a past, Victor Erice for El Sur , Michelangelo Antonioni for La Notte, Fellini for 8½, La Dolce Vita  , Luchino Visconti for Death in Venice, Kim Ki Duck for its exceptional poetic 3-Iron , Jean Luc Godard for The Contempt, Tony Gatlif for Latcho Drom , Emir Kusturica for Time of the Gypsies. My Dad inspired me also, as he was a great director who would transport you in another dimension. My three favorite of his movies were Pressure Point, the Third Voice and The Night of the Following day. Architects like Ludwig Mies van der Rohe for his Less is more minimalist style. Andre Courrèges was a fascinating French fashion designer. He was particularly known for his streamlined 1960s designs influenced by modernism and futurism, exploiting modern technology and new fabrics. Painters like Rene Magritte, Amedeo Modigliani, Rembrandt, Egon Schiele.

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Beach house Bombay © Stephanie Cornfield

Which writers do you currently find exciting and which books are on your bookshelf? The Prophet by Khalil Gibran , L ‘ Ombilic des Limbes by Anthonin Artaud. I always have Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts as I m staying in Bombay for the past 8 years the book talks to me so to speak. Which books have influenced or shaped you? Steppen Wolf by Herman Hesse, The Fruits of the Earth by Andre Gide, Venus Erotica by Anais Nin , The School of Flesh by Mishima, All from Charles Bukowsky, Things by Georges Perec, all from Haruki Murakami, D’ Alembert’s dream by Diderot. What are you currently reading and where do you keep the book? Premières pressions à froid by Cyrille Putman on my bed table.

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My Fantasy Room © Stephanie Cornfield

What music do you listen to and when? I won t listen to the music in the morning I m very lucky to be able to hear the waves and it makes the most perfect morning or night actually . Otherwise Zakir Hussain,Ravi Shankar, Rachmaninov, Charlie Mingus, Wayne Shorter, Iggy Pop, The Who, Dj Krush, Sig, Taraf de Haidouk, Dreadzone, Richie Hawtin, John Aquaviva, and m lucky enough to be friend with the best djs Derrick May and Rob Keith.  I used to be a rock star photographer and I worked for a techno program on TV years back so music was always very important to me. If you would cook something for us, what would it be? I m a big foodie, I love to go buy all my ingredients , choose the best fruits and vegetables,  would cook a Chili con carne or a Ceviche or a Bobun or an Orange Sicilian salad or a special Spaghetti al mixed nuts Pesto. What do you like to eat most? My favorite food is japanese food.  What do you think about breakfast? My breakfast is either a smoothie or a Rasberry Blueberry Banana bread home made of course. I like when it s fast , easy, healthy and yummy.  What kind of sport or counterbalance to your work do you practice? If I could I would surf everyday, else I just go to the gym or swim on a daily basis. Used to practice Qi Gong and a lot of skiing. Sport is a must in my life. 

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Beach house Bombay © Stephanie Cornfield

Do you have special passions for which you are burning, and if so, which ones? Cooking , music Djing , party organizer , travel freak going in depth so having few second homes round the world. What personality trait defines you? Spontaneity and laughter. Do you have a concern that you would like to share with us? People are in old mental prisons which they don’t seem able to get out of. I find it distressing to see situations like the one I have witnessed in India over the eight years that I have lived there , with these deep religious differences  affecting most people’s  intimate life , to note the maintenance of arranged marriages, the fact of not having sex before marriage, very middle-aged things which continue to repress people, to frustrate them. Sacrificing intimacy  for the benefit of an agreement between communities.

DEEDS WORLD - Interview Stephanie Cornfield Foto by Marco Pancrazi

Stephanie Cornfield © Marco Pancrazi

Interview | Artist + Position

To begin, please tell us your artistic vita in a few sentences.

I m a portrait photographer working in the movies, I would primarily do private sittings but also work on set . Generally I’ m hired to do what they called Specials , working in free style where I have a total creative freedom .

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Celine Sallette, Cannes International Film Festival, 2014 © Stephanie Cornfield

I’m also doing documentary photography in India for few years and will be exhibited as a cross solo exhibition with my celebrities pictures in the same gallery in Berlin from sept / oct of this year. I share mostly my time between Bombay, Paris, Rome, Bali and La .

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Varanasi, 2019 © Stephanie Cornfield

Briefly explain your current project.

In this portrait Cornfield’s friend JH looks like a sensual mermaid. Cornfield met JH ten years ago in Shanghai while she was working on a movie. They liked each other instantly although they came from different walks of life.They lost touch for a few years so she was pleasantly surprised when JH messaged her out of the blue. They talked about a joint shooting in Shanghai.The Corona virus interfered with their plans, JH hired Cornfield to photograph her in Bangkok instead. This shot was taken in Pattaya , along the beach in the tropical night two friends made their dreams come true.
After shooting, they returned respectively to Shanghai and Mumbai to their business and artist life there , two good friends separate because of Covid and they wish to get together again soon to enjoy a free and adventurous life.

After shooting, they returned respectively to Shanghai and Mumbai to their business and artist life there , two good friends separate because of Covid and they wish to get together again soon to enjoy a free and adventurous life.

This portrait is called Heat .

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Heat, Pattaya, 2020 © Stephanie Cornfield

What are you most concerned about at the moment; what is on your mind?

In the time of our inner self shrinking, feeling congested in limited space, this feeling of our inner self shrinking is exacerbated .

While free we think we dominate the space and time, feeling the ultimate power of life, of infinite possibilities. Our inner self radiates then of its supreme power.

Working on our inner self seems the key , inner dialog seems the dialog of truth yet the hardest to pursue.

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Self portrait, Bali, 2014 © Stephanie Cornfield

In this time of confinement it feels hard to reach people, all are dealing with their own shit , prefer sometimes to keep silent rather than have empty voices, locking themselves ..

Respect space, privacy, be compassionate.

Being a free lance international artist and locked down is tough in the sense that normally we take care of our own things, projecting ourselves, now we project in the blur .. interrogating ourselves can I come back to my different so called homes . Living in the blur will be the new norm.

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Malcolm Mc Dowell, Paris, 2018 © Stephanie Cornfield

How did you come to art? Why art?

I wanted to be a war reporter and studied political science at an American University , I took photography as elective class . I had back then a boyfriend working for CBS news , I joined him during the gulf war so I saw very closely what it was and thought I was not strong enough psychologically to do it. I was more and more attracted to art and was planning to do a master in a film school in LA  then some drama happened in my life so I thought ok why not photography I can start tomorrow hence I started photography by accident.

Art because it s a medium to escape the ordinary life, to transcend life.

What makes you happy at the moment?

When I see great humanity around me, when I take the time to feel the moment.

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Melvin Van Peebles, Berlin International Film Festival, 2004 © Stephanie Cornfield

What is currently scaring you?

I’ m not scared , I m happy to live and cherish my life no matter what, even in the darkest part of my life I have a strong vitality and it has helped me a lot. Think positive. I ‘m a fighter and will fight whatever obstacles I find , will fight till the end for my survival.

Do you believe that art has a social responsibility? And what do you think it can do?

Artist have a social responsibility to avoid abuse, exploitation, or oppression of individuals or groups , if I make pictures at a funeral in India I make sure it s respectful, not obscene or vulgar . I can add here a picture I took at a funeral in Varanasi that could be controversial as some people will not understand why you would take the deceased person in picture and they d see it as disrespectful . I took it as the whole image conveyed a peaceful feeling as death is part of our lives , life is an initiation to death and death in hindu religion is perceived as the liberation of the soul.

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Varanasi, 2020 © Stephanie Cornfield

  A social responsibility as you have to act morally but sometimes there is a thin line between portraying something and abusing as entering a personal space and the artist has also the responsibility to take the risk to act to deliver a free art speech so to speak.

What makes your art special? What is it about – what are the central themes of your work?

When I take a portrait , will see it most of the time as landscape and think of colors as if it will be a painting. Will try to capture the essence of either the artist I photograph or the anonymous in my frame. Portraits of artist in entertainment  or portraiture of  selected faces embracing different cultures.

Read Stephanie Cornfield’s full answer in THE DEED | DAS WERK.

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David Lynch  in his house on Mulholland Drive in Los Angeles, 2002 © Stephanie Cornfield

How do you protect yourself from too much inspiration these days?

There is never too much inspiration, it s a natural thing to be inspired and it has always been . Being inspired is one thing, copying is another.

How much in your works is planned in advance – how much is created intuitively?

I would say 70 per cent is intuitive .  My work process is organic.

What are your (next) goals?

I m heading to Haridware this month to photograph the Maha Kumbh , the largest gathering of hindus, devotees,  saddhus that happens every 12 years.

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Varanasi, 2020 © Stephanie Cornfield

It ’s the craziest thing even though sanitary measures will be in place I assume but as we are in the middle of a pandemic , in that sense it will be historical.

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Varanasi, 2019 © Stephanie Cornfield

I might then work on some French movies then will cover Cannes Film festival in July making assigned portraits for the La Times as they ve been hiring me for more than a decade.

What is your opinion about faith? Do you have principles of faith or is there a motto?

Faith gives you courage, it doesn’t necessarily means believing in a specific god. It can be believing in a spiritual force. I m against religions because of them there are wars, be spiritual not religious.

Which project would you still like to realize, if lack of time, courage or financial resources would not play a role?

My only plan is that I don t have a plan. My life is very spontaneous and a complete improvisation. If I had plan I would keep it private first.

What do you consider to be attributes of good art?

It gives you a strong feel either by the colors, movements or it tells a story. The combination of the two being the optimum .

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Andy Lau, Venice international Film Festival, 2011 © Stephanie Cornfield

Is one born as an artist? Or is studying art compulsory in your view?

You are born with certain assets as a photographer what you called having a good eye , an instinctive sense of composition, but practice , hard work , strong will , tend to enhance the original skills. The key is practicing . Studying art is a luxury that some people cannot afford either for the time it takes or for financial reasons. I’m an autodidacte , I believe in self learning , you can take few classes and start from there. Being an assistant can also be good if you start at a young age.

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Amanda Plummer, Los Angeles, 2010 © Stephanie Cornfield

To whom do you show a new work first?

To my best friends who are also in creative world.

What does the first hour of your day look like?

In ideal moments, taking the time to absorb the world, being blessed with the best sea view feeling the time, observing , stopping the time. A kind of indirect meditation.  Being creative, imagining a new dish,  a new interior for your house. Making something new is exciting.

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Fernando Meirelles, Sao Paulo, 2014 © Stephanie Cornfield

In Times of the internet of things, are galleries still necessary? If so, why and what for?

Galleries are important to keep art alive and create interactions with the people . It makes it much more interesting than virtual communication and virtual displaying. Both are interesting but it’ s a great achievement and honor for an artist to be displayed in some good art gallery around the world.

Social media – in your view a blessing or a curse?

I feel it’s a blessing if you know how to use it wisely , it’s all about control. Don’t let it dominate your life. You feel that you can reach out to anybody on the planet who has common views or taste , in that regard it’s sensational. As it is time consuming you have to use it scarcely. For people who have addictive temperament it can certainly be dangerous and then be a curse.

Epilogue | Current

The group show The Female Side of the Moon with the work “Heat” by Stephanie Cornfield is visible from 23 January to 27 March 2021 at the Galerie Z22, Zähringerstraße 22, 10707 Berlin-Wilmersdorf. The exhibition can also be visited online as a virtual 3D Tour virtuell besuchbar. The exhibition will be continued in September 2021. More information will follow.

In times of Corona, when travel, studio visits and personal contacts are inappropriate or even impossible, the written interview remains an important medium to introduce artist personalities, to spread their messages and to stay in touch with art lovers. The interviews are not edited or shortened by the editors and are always reproduced in original sound. Therefore, we do not translate the interview into English or German unless the interviewee submits a translation.

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