As an artist and photographer based in Austin, TX, Raphael Umscheid doesn’t limit his craft strictly to photography. From multimedia projects, video work, paintings and photos, Umscheid’s creativity has no limits. His work has been published in several impressive publications including Vogue Italia, GQ Italia, Playboy South Africa and has been on display in many galleries spanning the globe.
I got the chance to correspond with Umscheid via email to gain more insight about his work.
Have you always been artistically inclined? How did you get your start in photography?
Raphael Umscheid: Yes! As an only child, I spent countless hours drawing on every surface that I could find making my own little fantasy world. I took a break from visual arts for years and learned to play an instrument and it was my band mate that introduced me to photography that was challenging and engaging. Until that time, I didn’t really get photography.
I understand you’re also a painter. In what ways do your photographs and paintings influence each other or overlap? Did you begin expressing your creativity as a painter, photographer or have you always worked with both media?
RU: I started out with painting and the slow pace that comes with that. I got into photography when I realized that I could control that space in a manner similar to painting, but that the reward came at a different speed. At first, I treated these mediums as separate, but more and more I see them as interchangeable and complementary. I want to use what each can give an image and I want the finished works to blur together when hanging on a wall.
Some of your work features cross-media elements, such as your models that have paint on their bodies. What themes or messages are you trying to convey with this kind of work? Or is it more of a visual choice?
RU: This is a complex question, and if I answered it a thousand times, I would give you a thousand different answers. I carry concerns and feelings for the world and these times. I decided years ago never to force anything, so I sketch late at night when the day is over. It’s a bit of a visual diary. Shapes and forms emerge, and they are as unfiltered as possible at that time. In the conscious realm, I am pushing back a bit on the ordinary, expected Instagram beauty pictures. More and more, I want to portray an unusual beauty. More and more, I want to push myself with larger and more challenging compositions.
A lot of your work features nudity and an emphasis on the human form. What draws you to this subject matter and what are some of the challenges you’ve encountered with this kind of photography?
RU: I love the emotions I feel when working with the human form. I think this might surprise some people who see some of my work as detached, but it is often a desire for a connection. The complexity of the human body and the challenge to pose it in an environment in a unique manner is a challenge that I love. I rarely get exactly what I drew in my preliminary sketches—I often get something much more.
I’ve noticed that nature/natural elements are a recurring theme throughout your portraiture work. Is it fair to say that this is a purposeful choice? Why are you drawn to these settings and elements for your photographs?
RU: By nature I am a stressed-out person that loves to do too many things. I long to be the guy that is so content and relaxed in nature that everything just rolls off of me. So, all these elements represent what I want. Peace. Harmony. Connection.
What makes for a good portrait?
Honesty. Let the lens capture a sliver of truth.
Your work has impressively been published in Vogue Italia, GQ Italia, Playboy South Africa among several other publications. How did you get involved working with magazines? Do you find that it’s more restricting or liberating, creatively speaking?
RU: Being published in print with Playboy was something I never envisioned happening when I picked up a camera. Of course, Playboy has a more restrictive look and feel from other work that I do, so that work is a bit of an outlier in mood and feel. The work on Vogue Italia’s Photovogue (I can’t describe these curated photos as truly published, more selected by Vogue Italia editors and displayed on their website) is somewhere closer to my natural creative feel. So, often my work will hit their mark, but I often go too far for their aesthetic. I have really not pursued any magazine work since the beginning of 2020 when I left my studio at the time and then COVID hit. I’m actually in a bit of transition at the moment.
Do you have any advice for photographers that want to work for fashion publications?
RU: Stay in tune with the publications you want to be in so that when you are on location the compositions will be in the back of your mind. Keep moving and keep challenging the expected. And, bond with the people around you that truly get and understand your style. Those people are like sugar on a cake.
Between working with models, make-up artists and publishers, where do you fit in collaboratively?
RU: I’ve played any and all roles in the process; from hired gun to creative control freak. When doing my hardest art, I am more and more hardened to not be as pliable as I used to be on my vision. But, on collaborative shoots with a designer and a team, it is the most amazing feeling to be in my lane pushing a vision out and for others to pick up on that and throw glitter balls back at me with ideas I didn’t even conceive of. Thank you, you geniuses!
What are your most trusted pieces of equipment that you'd feel lost without?
I love my circular polarizer to control the glare and loom of the image coming through the lens. Simple, but a miracle.
Do you have any upcoming projects or features in publications you'd like to share?
RU: Yes! I find that I am often most creatively in tune with certain bands. I’ve been so happy to have a variety of bands that trust me. I’m super excited about the cover art that I just made for Pale Dian’s upcoming single “Emily”. It’s a departure from my usual figurative photography and I had a good time spending hours on composing the image. Additionally, I have been completing a music video for their song, “Emily”. It’s a Lynchian, swamp romp of a song. It’s my ultimate commentary on the creative process and the mysteries of our minds and with video I have one more medium to blend it all together.