Three photos of Violetta Ziron, captured by Amelie Satzger Three photos of Violetta Ziron, captured by Amelie Satzger

Seeing Music with Amelie Satzger

By Brendan Seibel

For German photographer Amelie Satzger, music has always intertwined with the creative impulse.

As a youth, she performed in a band with a good friend. When that partnership split, her imagination found refuge behind the lens of a camera. “I was searching for another medium I could put my creativity into,” says Satzger. “I would ride around on my bike searching for cool locations to shoot. I was just imaging something in there that could maybe look good and then putting my camera on a tripod and trying it out. I didn’t really care if the picture came out well or not. I just tried everything.”

But even as her artistic focus changed, the music was there inspiring the visual narratives she created. While studying photography in Munich, she began translating lyrics that moved her into a series of richly colored, evocative self-portraits.

Then a thought struck her: Why not have the musicians themselves star in the scenes their songs inspired?

“I want to visualize lyrics from musicians into my own colorful world and I want the musician to be a part of the picture,” says Satzger.

Her new project, Seeing Music, was conceived as part of her Adobe Creative Residency, a one-year program designed to offer support and mentorship to promising new artists.

Satzger decided that for each artist, she would hand-build sets, collect props and costumes, envision poses, then shoot—three songs, three sets, three photographs of each. Once the set was struck, she would imbue those images with the shimmering, effervescent gloss that defines her work.

The first artist to sign on was Italian singer-songwriter Violetta Zironi.

Using lyrics as her inspiration and the musician as her model, Satzger create portraits of Violetta Zironi’s songs, Lonely Window, One More Goodbye, and Oasis.

 “She was lovely,” says Satzger. “She’s creative, I’m creative. We both like each other’s work, so it was really cool to work with her.”

The group agreed to photograph a scene based on the spare and melancholic Lonely Window, which had been released in June, along with two older tracks Satzger particularly liked.

Satzger created concept art for the three photo shoots on her iPad.

Once she had concept sketches, which she rendered on an iPad in Adobe Illustrator Draw and Adobe Fresco, Satzger began to translate those ideas into the real world. She scored a free mannequin online, painted store-bought garden shears, and built the sets. It’s important to her that she is physically part of the work she produces, including the hammering and sawing. It’s one way that she can make sure everything she creates has a little of herself in it.

“I just love to do something by my hands,” she says. “I think it’s just more an emotional thing for me than it is visible on the picture. I want to know that everything in the picture I had some impact on.”

Go behind the scenes of the prop construction and photo shoot with Violetta Zironi.

Over time, Satzger’s work has morphed from soft, fantastical photorealism to impossibly colorful, uncanny images more the product of Photoshop than of a camera.

To get her look, she works with Curves adjustment layers in Adobe Photoshop to over- or underexpose the image. She then masks the layer so she can selectively apply the effect it to just the areas she chooses.

“I have one underexposed layer and one overexposed layer because I have places where I want it to be a little darker and places where I want it to be a little lighter,” she says. “Then I paint with a brush and just make little parts overexposed and little parts underexposed. It creates a different light—a different surrealistic style, which I paint over the whole picture. That’s why most of my photos look like paintings. I call it painting with light.”

The effect is a glossy, hyperreal quality that defines her aesthetic. Using a tablet and pen, Satzger quickly alternates between stock Adobe brushes, adjusting the size and softness, adding opacity, and making a blitz of adjustments. She usually takes only two or three hours to finalize an image. Then, over the next several days, she pokes and prods, making tiny adjustments and fine tuning.

Watch as Satzger edits one of the images from her Seeing Music series.

“My pictures, they’re not photos in the really normal way,” says Satzger. “They’re more digital paintings.”

A few weeks after shooting Zironi she was back in the studio, this time with the Danish pop star Oh Land. You can follow her progress on her website or on Instagram.