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I’m with the Band: Heike Schneider-Matzigkeit Photographs Rock Stars & Dogs

The Berlin-based artist has shot Amy Winehouse and Iggy Pop. Her new gig is taking portraits of creatives and their pets.

by Andie Cusick
September 15, 2021
Photo by Heike Schneider-Matzigkeit
Courtesy of Heike Schneider-Matzigkeit

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Heike Schneider-Matzigkeit is best known for photographing music legends. Her lens has captured Amy Winehouse, Iggy Pop, Sonic Youth, Smashing Pumpkins, and the Kills, to name a few. These days, her jam is shooting the dogs behind Berlin’s art and music scene in an ongoing series, Dogs of Berlin and their Humans, which was recently featured in Vogue Italia. Here, Schneider-Matzigkeit shares her inspirations, her pro tips for photographing dogs, and what life in Berlin is like with her own dog, Bear.

Tell us about your new photographic series.

The project was inspired by my dog Bear and the close bond that we have with each other. I set out to document and portray the extraordinary lives of everyday people and their dogs in order to convey the incredible relationship that exists between species. Most of the photographs in the series are taken in people’s homes, in order to document the ways in which humans and dogs are co-exist and share their living spaces in Berlin.

I wanted to get away from the concept of the word “owner” that is so often used in the context of dogs and humans. In my eyes, dogs are sentient beings and therefore equal to us in feeling and emotion, desire and will — to name but a few innate characteristics. With every story I photograph, I ensure that the individual character of the dog is also portrayed.

Will you be expanding the series to document dogs and their humans in other cities?

In the future it would be lovely to publish a coffee table book, and if successful, I would very much like to continue the project in other international cities. Through Instagram I have already connected with future dog and human models in Barcelona. I think it would be fascinating to see the different European lifestyles and the effect on modern cross-species living. 

As a music photographer you’ve shot legendary artists from Sonic Youth and The Cure to Amy Winehouse and Iggy Pop. How is the transition from shooting musicians to pets?

It wasn’t a direct jump from one to the other. After my move from London to Berlin, my first project featured portraits of international female artists living in Berlin from 2007 to 2015. These photographs were, for the most part, shot at my studio Lux Revolver and culminated in the publication of an art photo book: Berlin Reflections - Antlitz Berlin. Subsequently, I was looking for something new to focus on, and the idea of working with dogs was an exciting and challenging prospect.

What’s been the biggest learning for you when photographing dogs?

Lessons learned: Meet the dog, let them get used to you, and remember you are in their environment. Be patient and take breaks. And most importantly, always have treats on hand! Some dogs pose for the camera, others don’t — the same goes for the human models. It’s all about attempting to catch the perfect split-second moment when everyone is completely at ease.

Tell us about your own dog, Bear. And how has he changed the way you live in the city?

Bear is eight years old. He’s a mix of various breeds — Chihuahua, Spitz, and Schipperke being the prominent ones. When he was a puppy, he looked just like a bear cub. We met in Berlin on a cold November day in 2012 when he was eight weeks old and fit perfectly inside the palm of my hand. He has changed how I live as he’s pretty much always with me. He has separation anxiety and hates staying home alone, plus he’s very adventurous and inquisitive so he very much insists on coming along all the time. Luckily, most places such as restaurants, cafés, bars, and beer gardens welcome dogs in Berlin, and they are also allowed on public transportation. Many shopping centers, pharmacies, and bakeries are open to dogs too, and I have even discovered a supermarket that allows small to medium-sized dogs inside — Bear’s face when first seeing (and smelling) the cheese section was worth the trip alone!

Describe a perfect day with Bear in Berlin.

Bear loves exploring! Whether it be driving in a car or sitting on the front of my bike, it’s easy to take him around the city. Sometimes he will even stop and sit by our tram stop as if to say, Let’s go somewhere new and exciting! A perfect day would involve spending time in a park such as Volkspark am Weinberg in Mitte or on top of the old water tower at Kollwitzplatz, strolling around Museum Island, and heading to the lakes. There are around 3,000 lakes in Berlin and Brandenburg (the state surrounding Berlin) and most of them are dog-friendly. Bear loves water, yet only up to his stomach. Getting completely wet is definitely not his idea of fun!

How do you include Bear in your active lifestyle? 

I wanted a dog for a long time. Growing up, my family always had large dogs — mostly German shepherds. For me, life in London was always too busy for a pet. Berlin has a slower speed of life, and feels more family-focused and less business-oriented than London. Berlin is a good place for both dogs and humans to enjoy a positive, good quality lifestyle.

Bear and I like to take long walks and bike rides along the many riverbanks and the Spree as well as the leafy park, Tiergarten. Having said that, I wish there was a gym or swimming pool we could both exercise at together. London now has dog-friendly cinemas and Edinburgh even has its own dog adventure park, so Berlin has some catching up to do in that respect.

When shooting Dogs of Berlin and their Humans, have you gained a better understanding of the relationships we have with our pets? 

Primarily, it reconfirmed to me how exceptional and valuable the relationships we have with our dogs are. Watching the silent (and sometimes loud) cross-species communication, you can literally see and feel the bond, love, and loyalty that exists — I hope it comes across in the photographs, too.

Any standout stories you’d like to share? 

Every story is different and unique, as are the dogs and humans behind them. If I had to pick one out, it would probably be Peter and his dog Zuko (pictured above), a Spanish Greyhound who was rescued in Spain, then looked after by a foster family before being adopted by Peter and his girlfriend, Julia. Zuko would run away, miles away, before being found hiding in random gardens in the East German countryside. Eventually, however, he began to realize that he was finally safe with his new family.

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Andie Cusick

Andie Cusick is a writer and editor who has lived and worked in New York, London, and Berlin. She has over a decade of experience across a diverse range of lifestyle publications and brands. Cusick is currently the Editorial Director at Freunde von Freunden, was head of PR for Urban Outfitters and former Associate Editor at NYLON Magazine.