Photographer Alan Schaller has finally completed his Metropolis series; a haunting and provocative look at the isolation many feel in a big city.
Schaller tells PetaPixel that the project was shot over the course of seven years all across the world. However, he intentionally doesn’t reveal the locations of his photos because of Metropolis’ overall theme: social disconnection.
“I could take pictures that fit that theme anywhere I was in the world, it didn’t really matter where the location was,” says Schaller. “The point is this homogenous thing is happening, whether you’re in Paris, Tokyo, or New York — it’s becoming more similar, I think.”
Schaller, a Leica ambassador, has now released Metropolis as a book featuring the distinctive photos that led him to become one of the darling photographers of Instagram.
He says that his style has always been much the same. It may surprise some to learn that he posts on Flickr too.
“The vast majority of [my photos] have always been in black and white. But the editing wasn’t there, so they were much flatter. So it was really an instinctive thing.”
Schaller is inspired by Fan Ho and even the sculptor Alberto Giacometti. But his biggest influence is Ansel Adams and was particularly fascinated by the look the American photographer gave to his monochrome prints.
“I loved the way that he had that tonal pop and if you’ve ever seen one of his prints, like a big one, they’re just amazing,” he says.
Schaller’s fascination with Adams directly influenced his own work. He “obsessed” over Adams’ grayscale zone system which divides photos into eleven zones: nine shades of gray and pure black and white.
This led to Metropolis’ novel layout: the darker images — with blacker tones — are at the start of the book with the images making their way through the grayscale until the end of the book when it becomes predominantly white.
“It’s a bit of a metaphor, you can read into it as you wish,” says Schaller who invites viewers to come up “with your own narrative” to his photos.
‘You Just Photoshop Everything’
Schaller was late to photography, originally pursuing a career in the music industry. He began shooting with an iPhone and would get carried away with trying to compose and edit the smartphone photos to his liking.
He is frequently told that he just Photoshops everything by those “who do not wish to further understanding of metering and just shout and accuse.”
But he insists that the images in Metropolis are captured in-camera and many of the photos required “two or three minutes to edit.” He even showed PetaPixel a few of his photos on the back of his Leica.
“I think people often put a look or a style down to just how it’s edited, which is completely ridiculous,” says Schaller.
“There’s a lot more to it, the feel of the images, the atmosphere. You can go through my entire archive and you might find one or two people where they’re smiling. That is just something I don’t like pressing the shutter for.”
Schaller has also begun to experiment with film but all of Metropolis is digital.
If you’re reading this and you already know who Alan Schaller is then there’s a strong chance it’s because of Instagram. Schaller has over one million followers and his strong audience is partly the reason he got the book deal.
“I think it’s one of the greatest gifts that photography has ever had. A lot of people think it’s not and they hate it and they say it’s the death of everything, but none of those people have figured out how to create a massive following because there is a huge benefit from it,” he says.
“It’s not the end game, but it’s a very useful tool for getting people to events, for actually connecting with real photographers.”
Schaller was late joining Instagram (2015), initially being put off by the square format. He readily admits that it is still not the ideal medium for photography, but it remains one of the most effective global platforms.
For example, he exhibited his work in Australia which a few hundred people turned up to — despite never going there before — which he puts down to his Instagram following.
“Every generation of photographer has had a different way, a different approach to having to get their work out there,” he says.
“Maybe in the fifties and sixties you had to get into Nat Geo, maybe in the eighties it would help if you were shooting for Time Magazine.
“Whereas for this generation, there was no other way for me to get my work out there. And I think it puts a lot of power into the photographer’s hands. It gives you your own distribution. And so for the first time, photographers can control how they publish and what they want to say and it’s all down to them.”
He admits there are times when he doesn’t like the ‘Gram but says that by taking it seriously early on it’s given him good standing.
“Today I think Instagram is very hard to grow on. And I think if I started now, it would’ve been maybe a bit different,” he adds.
Image credits: Photographs by Alan Scahller
Update 12/14: A previous version of this article stated the wrong publisher, it has been amended.