Creating opportunities around the world

“I’m not someone who does multiple things over and over. I am always changing.”

From the Marlboro Man to Formula 1®, rock musicians to the Mennonites of Belize, Hannes Schmid has produced some of the most iconic images of the last century. In May, this versatile artist—whose oeuvre includes photography, film, oils, and installation projects—visited UBS at Art Basel in Hong Kong to share the secret of his success: change.


Like many great artists, Hannes Schmid’s career began in an inauspicious way. Having returned to his native Switzerland in 1977, after years of exploration abroad, a friend invited him to a rock concert. Little did Hannes know that this event would mark the start of an eight-year journey, during which he photographed more than 250 bands, spanning ABBA to Zappa.

At Art Basel in Hong Kong, Hannes told UBS clients how he distinguished himself from other photographers of that time. "I lived with the bands, traveled with them, they stayed with me and with my mother," he explained. "No other photographer got so close to the bands because, for them, I was not a photographer. I was another guy living alongside them. They thought, ‘He’s crazy, we are crazy. He fits into the family’."

With unrestricted access to many of the world’s greatest performers, Hannes was able to capture a unique perspective on their lives, one rarely in the public view. As his skills grew, so did his profile and exposure. Fashion magazines came calling and he soon faced a decision: whether to remain in his current genre of photography, or to try something new.

He chose the latter, and Hannes’ fashion photography appeared in Vogue, ELLE, GQ, Cosmopolitan, Elle, Depèche Mode, Marie Claire, Harper’s Bazaar, Condé Nast Traveller, and many other global titles. Commissions soon followed, from the likes of Armani, Bally, Joop, Kenzo, Levis, Sisley, and Swatch.

Many would have been content to achieve such renown in a hugely competitive genre, but Hannes refused to stand still. "I’m not someone who does multiple things over and over," he told us. "I am always changing." And so he switched gears once more and took on a high-profile advertising campaign, one that would become a defining moment in his career — the 1990s Marlboro Man.

"My job was to create a new image of the Marlboro Man, and that’s what I did. From about 1993 onward, my pictures were all over the world. The world became my gallery. Then, overnight, my life changed."

The discovery that a contemporary artist had appropriated Hannes’ Marlboro Man images, painting them for his own iconic series was, at first, a difficult blow. "It was strange and disappointing," he said. "But there was nothing I could do to stop it."

Determined to make the best of a bad situation, Hannes decided that if he couldn’t stop other artists from appropriating his photography, then he would appropriate it, too. If Hannes himself painted his own photographs, they would become unique originals. One slight obstacle, however, was that he had absolutely no idea how to paint.

"My wife said to me, ‘in Chinese culture, if you don’t know how to do something, you practice’." Hannes spent five years mastering the art of photorealistic painting until, finally satisfied with the quality of the work, he flew to New York to exhibit it.

Once again, the bold decision to embrace the unknown paid off. That summer, a show of Hannes’ paintings opened to rave reviews. "Again, overnight my life changed," he said, "One of the most important art critics in New York wrote a two-page editorial asking, ‘if another artist’s reproductions of Hannes Schmid sell for US$3 and $4 million, what is the value of a Hannes Schmid original?’"

How does Hannes constantly push himself to evolve? "In Taoism, we believe in the Five Elements, and that every living thing is undergoing constant transformation," he explained at Art Basel in Hong Kong.

With the upcoming MOMENTOUS exhibition at the Today Art Museum in Beijing, presented by UBS, Hannes Schmid is putting the concept of transformation into effect once more.

“Even if you don’t think you are an artist, you are. In every human being, there is an artist. Go home, and try.”

"The moment is something very important in our life. There’s the sad moment, the short moment, the long moment. The camera is the only machine that captures the moment. And I started to realize that I could find a way to show how moments pass away in our life."

Visitors to the exhibition will be invited to upload photos—each one a moment— from their smartphones. These images will become part of Hannes’ existing imagery, forming a new and different piece of art.

"People will be excited that they have suddenly started to create. They will want to capture and share this new, melded art with their digital community. Then the community will send it back so we are starting an avalanche of interaction."

Participation will be key, so Hannes is encouraging visitors to take a page out of his book, and try something new. "Even if you don’t think you are an artist, you are. In every human being, there is an artist. Go home, and try."

No one knows which direction Hannes Schmid’s work will take next. Whatever he turns his hand to, UBS Perspectives wishes this truly versatile and inspirational artist every success.


UBS presents Hannes Schmid’s interactive MOMENTOUS exhibition at the Today Art Museum in Beijing, from 22 June to 17 July 2014.
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