Beauty has through the ages been dissected to push the boundaries of what is already known and been seen. The philosophical question of “what is beautiful?” has undoubtedly plagued the minds of many a creative in search of the level of artistry within themselves. The latest addition to the conversation is courtesy of photographer Mikael Schulz and beauty whiz Viktoria Sörensdotter who have released their first collaborative book, The Face of Beauty. The pair looked to “could capture the spirit of our creative partnership on our own terms, without limits” which resulted in astonishing portraiture displaying dazzling makeup and hair creations. Models Maria Borges, Carolina Sjöstrand, and many more pose for countless makeup changes in this visual masterpiece that is sure to inspire. We talked to the photographer about his new self-published venture, putting all the pieces together, and what beauty truly means to him.
What was the inspiration behind focusing on beauty and to develop a book on the subject?
I love beauty, it was easy—it’s nice when it’s a small set. It was just Victoria, the model, my assistant, Claudio and myself. It was just the four of us playing around having fun. Victoria and I don’t have a publisher; we paid for the book ourselves and we’re getting some good recognition. We’re doing a small exhibition and book release on February 11.
And where are you based?
I am based, here, in New York, but I travel to Europe and shoot everywhere!
Had you worked with Victoria before this project?
Yes, lots! She’s Swedish–just so sweet and nice, and does H&M all of the time. She has a family and kids, therefore her focus hasn’t been on editorial as much, but she is so incredibly good at both hair and make-up.
What was your overall direction?
I love hair and make-up and I love everything about the perfection. Our communication during the shoot was helpful; it’s 50/50. She really lets me go in. Victoria and I started off by grouping together all of our inspirations; the models come, take a simple, clean black and white photo, and we built around that.
How long did this take to develop this?
We were thinking of doing an exhibition, a little pamphlet, and ultimately decided to do a book. From idea to today, it took two years. I casted and retouched everything myself, certainly a labor of love.
Did you already have a mood board coming into the shoots?
Yes, we did have a plan that we lean on, but you have to be open to whatever happens when the model is there.
You must be an amazing freestyler!
Thanks! [laughs] When you work someone who is creative and fun, freestyling works! It is all about trust; you already feel the same and it’s heightened more by having already before worked together.
I love how everything is so readable. There’s a quote in the beginning, “A beautiful image needs an element of perfection to make it interesting.” Profound. What are your thoughts on that?
If you just create “pretty-pretty”, it resonates Barbie. That’s too sweet and uninteresting to me. Every picture has to have an element of ugliness in it to make it be beautiful; I think playing that balance makes an image interesting.
In a way it grounds your work to reality – it has that kind of grain. Production wise, how did you go about setting up shoots?
We shot in shot in Stockholm and in New York. We did six to eight changes in one day. Victoria does both hair and make-up and is so fast! These changes are all very different. She’s so willing and amazing and easy to work with.
Where do you find inspiration? Is it art, fashion, the world?
Models.com, I’m on the site everyday! [laughs] I’m a sucker for all the magazines, things that are happening; you get so influenced by the business. However, what I want is to do is close myself down to see what if I’m thinking is beautiful. I think it’s inspirational, that unique state of mind.
In your book there is a diverse range of different types of faces and beauty. What is your casting process for choosing the perfect girl in this more globalized world with the Internet and more access to visual content?
We wanted more versatility in the book, but it’s still not enough. I love that it’s very diverse in fashion now; I also love the natural hair trend among Black girls. One of the girls, Maria, who’s in the book, doesn’t wear weave.
Which came first in your creative process, the beauty idea or the model?
It was all about when Victoria and I could get together, then which models were available.
It seems your process is very freestyle, almost like a lot was planned, but also a lot was in the moment.
You have to be open to that, and usually those are the best pictures, when you’re in the moment and not forcing too much.
For some photographers, that gives them anxiety. They want everything planned out.
You have to have something to lean on, because if you’re on a shoot and get confused, it’s nice to go back and see what you have. So we have looks planned, but we’re also spontaneous to what is emerging.
How hard was it to self-publish this book?
It wasn’t. It’s time consuming, but it’s not impossible.
So what’s next for you in the next couple of months? Are you doing a lot of promo for this book?
Victoria and I are doing an exhibition and book launch on February 11 in SoHo at Catherine Ahnell Gallery, with some pretty big 15×38 prints. It’s fun to see them big. We’re also doing an event in Stockholm the week after with a bigger exhibition.
Do you think you’d do another project like this again?
Yes! I would love to!