Photographer Spends Hundreds Of Hours Recreating Scenes From His Childhood — All From Memory

"After that, the whole installation is dismantled."

While it's common for people to reminisce about their childhood experiences, one man takes things a step further. Berlin-based photographer Thomas Friedrich Schaefer attempts to relive some of his memorable childhood moments by physically recreating them for a photo series he calls Experiential Spaces.  

In an interview with Alasdair Foster for Photo China Magazine, Schaefer says he became a photographer by accident. Prior to photography, Schaefer studied architecture, and found inspiration in "the way elements in an environment can form a visual composition." 

"Those interests led me to move from architecture to photography, hoping (perhaps knowing … ) it would prove to be a language I could use to express myself." Eventually, he enrolled at the Berliner Technische Kunstochschule, specializing in photography. 

Since then, Schaefer has lived and worked all over the world, including South America, Europe, South East Asia, Western Africa and North America, according to his website. Now, in Germany, Schaefer spends 200 to 400 hours to create each of his photographs, delving into his memories to recreate them in his studio. 

"To begin with, I just have an indistinct memory in mind: my mother or grandmother working in the washroom while the children play, for example," Schaefer tells Foster. Then, he sketches out his ideas and begins building them in the studio, adding decorations, furniture, and smaller details.  

"Everything from the exact angle a pencil lies on the desk, or the shape of a bush outside the window, to the specific pose adopted by each actor. Every detail needs to be precisely defined. Once I can truly see and feel the image of my memory or dream, I take a picture to preserve it. After that, the whole installation is dismantled."



Photo courtesy of Thomas Friedrich Schaefer
Photo courtesy of Thomas Friedrich Schaefer

Experiential Spaces features multiple scenes: a man in a garage, complete with tools, a car, and a look at the surrounding outdoor space; a woman looking at the washing machine as a young girl sits in the next room; a woman in the kitchen while a Christmas tree lights up the next room.

"I remember as a child feeling sad or angry that I had to study while my dad watched TV, but I just became a dad myself and now I think of it differently — I would also want the best for my child," Schaefer tells Design Taxi

Photo courtesy of Thomas Friedrich Schaefer
Photo courtesy of Thomas Friedrich Schaefer

In behind-the-scenes images of his work, viewers get a glimpse into the incredible amount of  thought and detail that goes into each of Schaefer's sets. The photos below showcase the garage set and its construction. 

Photo courtesy of Thomas Friedrich Schaefer
Photo courtesy of Thomas Friedrich Schaefer
Photo courtesy of Thomas Friedrich Schaefer
Photo courtesy of Thomas Friedrich Schaefer
Photo courtesy of Thomas Friedrich Schaefer
Photo courtesy of Thomas Friedrich Schaefer

Schaefer says he hopes his work inspires viewers to think about their own nostalgic memories. 

"I hope the work might give the viewer an opportunity to consider whether the scene is 'just' an image of my memory or if, perhaps through similarities of experience, it could also become an 'icon' of their past that allows them to immerse themselves in a sense of personal nostalgia." 



Photo courtesy of Thomas Friedrich Schaefer
Photo courtesy of Thomas Friedrich Schaefer

Whether you relate directly to one (or more) of Schaefer's photographs or they spark your own memories, you'll likely be fascinated by his work. 

Photo courtesy of Thomas Friedrich Schaefer
Photo courtesy of Thomas Friedrich Schaefer
Photo courtesy of Thomas Friedrich Schaefer
Photo courtesy of Thomas Friedrich Schaefer
Photo courtesy of Thomas Friedrich Schaefer
Photo courtesy of Thomas Friedrich Schaefer
Photo courtesy of Thomas Friedrich Schaefer
Photo courtesy of Thomas Friedrich Schaefer


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