It is an honour to feature international art, fashion and beauty photographer, Udo Spreitzenbarth. The German-born creative previously studied architectural design, before pursuing his passion for photography. A big decision saw him relocate to the Big Apple and live out his dream. Shortly after residing in NY, Udo secured a huge billboard campaign, kickstarting his career as an acclaimed photographer. Now gracing the covers of numerous glossy magazines, Udo’s bright and crisp sensibility has assured his status as one of the most in-demand fashion photographers.
You developed an interest for fashion and photography early on, however prior to your photography career you studied architecture at Technische Universität Darmstadt. When did you realise your passion lied with photography?
From early on in my childhood I always loved photography. My older brother studied art and was a photo enthusiast. When I was about 8 years old he made me his “photo assistant”. Back then he already taught me how to use F-stops and shutter speeds etc.
However, after finishing high school, I decided to study architecture. It seemed like a great combination of both artistry and academia. As much as I loved the architectural studies, I always felt that my true passion lied with photography. This created a great inner conflict for me because I knew that I had to decide how I wanted the rest of my life to look like.
When I took a trip to visit New York City for the first time, it was then I realised I wanted to be a photographer in New York. It’s hard to describe, but on that first day arriving in NY, I knew that this was where I wanted to be. Since then, I have studied and resided in another country, on another continent. I really had no idea how or what I was doing, I just knew that I had to somehow follow my calling.
Two months after this initial trip, I returned to NY with a dream, a suitcase and a borrowed camera. Ever since then it’s my home.
Born in Germany but currently residing in New York City, does your heritage play a part in your art?
I am sure it does, we all get influenced by our environment and the formative childhood years are the most influential ones. I always like my compositions to be balanced, grounded and on the heavy / darker side. I have problems with loose and light things - maybe that’s where my German upbringing comes in.
Shortly after arriving as an ambitious photographer in NY, you secured a billboard campaign on Times Square. How did this feel? And can you tell us a bit about this campaign?
I remember it felt very surreal seeing my photo on a 10 x 20 meter, gigantic billboard on Times Square! But at the same time it made me realise that it’s for real now. I remember looking up to the billboard and saying to myself: “Wow, you are actually doing it! This is not some crazy little dream anymore, your picture is on a billboard on Times Square, the centre of the world.”
The campaign was for a men’s fashion line, photographed with 3 male models. It was actually rather controversial. Hahaha, I am just going to leave it like this.
You have also received international acclaim through numerous solo exhibitions across the globe such as; Frankfurt, Berlin and Shanghai. Have you visited all of these countries personally? If so, what has been your favourite and why?
Yes, absolutely! I make a point to be present for the opening of every solo exhibition that I have done, even if it means flying half way across the globe. I really think that it is important for artists to be at their openings. It’s also an immensely rewarding feeling to witness people visiting your show, asking questions and being interested in the thought process behind your work. It’s the best!
I must say that two of my favourite countries I have been to are China and India. There is just so much to explore and learn. With cultures that are entirely different to my own European/American heritage, it heightens the contrast, both shocking and fascinating at the same time. This said, these are not countries that I would recommend for a relaxed vacation, hahaha.
Your work has been published in an array of infamous magazines and publications including; Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Elle etc. What achievement or highlight are you most proud of?
I am extremely proud of the number of covers I have shot for major magazines around the world. It’s really tough for me to pinpoint one highlight or achievement, this said I am definitely grateful that I was able to shoot with legends such as the artist Christo, Helmut Newton, Meg Ryan, Jeffrey Wright, Salma Hayek, etc. The art series that I did with Tyra Banks was also definitely another big highlight!
When did you first fall in love with art?
My brother was an art student and he was very influential to me, introducing me to painting, sculpture and photography very early on. I remember sometimes sneaking into his room and looking through his fascinating collection of books and magazines.
Where do you find inspiration for your work?
A lot of my inspiration comes from my favourite place on earth, New York City. It was love at first sight and this love affair is still alive many years later. I live and breathe NY, it inspires me every day. No matter what the current problems and challenges are, New York will always be New York.
You specialise in both fashion and beauty photography. What do you love about capturing flawless headshots and beautiful garments?
I have always loved art, beauty and fashion. Even as a child, I was already fascinated with beautiful Hollywood stars and absolutely loved playing with my older sisters Barbies’, dressing them up in all these amazing outfits. Hahaha, I guess I kind of made that my profession.
What has been your favourite camera to shoot with and why? Vintage or modern?
I mostly shoot on a Canon 5D Mark IV and I love it! It’s an amazing and versatile camera. When it comes to incredible digital quality for very large exhibition prints I preferably use Phase One, the highest resolution digital camera system in the world. If you ask me about my favourite camera of all time, it’s my vintage Mamiya RZ 67 medium format film camera. I dragged this heavy and bulky piece of equipment from African deserts to Central American rainforests. Nothing comes close to her.
As a creative, you must have tried various techniques and skills when perfecting your art. Are you still learning/discovering new ways of shooting and creating?
Absolutely! I love learning, discovering and experimenting. I think if you stop being open to learning and experimenting, you stop being creative.
Has your vision/style transformed or evolved over time?
It definitely has changed and evolved a lot over time. Even though I think part of my vision has remained consistent, it’s like a base to build on.
You have worked with many successful stars such as; Tyra Banks, John Legend, Meg Ryan and Salma Hayak to name a few. What has been your favourite celebrity to shoot? Are there any other celebs you would love to work with?
It’s really difficult for me to pick out one particular celebrity as my favourite. I worked with a lot of remarkable people, and each one of them has something unique and inspiring they bring to the table. However, if I do have to select one, I would go with Tyra. We both really enjoy working with each other and every time we do, something special comes out of it. Over the years we have shot 11 international Cosmopolitan covers together, as well as many magazine editorials and an exciting art project called Tyra 15.
You have created numerous striking images and works of art over the years. Do you have any one image or shoot that remained a personal favourite? If so, why?
I think just like a good parent doesn’t really favour any of his / her children, an artist doesn’t favour any one piece of his work. They are all special to him in their own way.
We would love to hear what you are currently working on? Are there any exciting new projects you have coming up?
I am actually doing the pre-production for a big ad campaign shoot at the moment. I can’t really reveal any details as of yet. All I can say is that I will be shooting and video directing a Hollywood royalty, an A-list star and I am extremely excited about it!