Schmidt first gained attention in 1973 with Berlin-Kreuzberg, a series of photographs of the quarter where he still lives. In Berlin Stadtbilder (Images of the City) 1976-80, Schmidt explored the architecture of the city, depicting the apartment blocks and office buildings in an austere, documentary style. With Ceasefire 1987 he developed a more dynamic approach, using tightly cropped images and a shallow depth of field to show young Berliners alongside scenes of urban decay, the Berlin wall, and graffitied swastikas. The series captures the fraught claustrophobia of life in the then-divided city.
With Self 1985-9, Schmidt turned the camera on himself as an act of ruthless personal analysis, creating a number of fragmentary self-portraits taken from unusual angles, and sometimes showing only his genitals or a dark silhouette on the wall. As in all Schmidts work, photography becomes a tool for inspection and insight.