Image - Anja Niemi, The Receptionist
Norweigan photographer Anja Niemi made waves with her captivating body of work 'Do Not Disturb' in 2011, capturing 'characters' within neutral and impersonal hotel rooms at undisclosed locations. We caught up with the artist ahead of the launch of her new series 'Starlets' ...
Q) When did you first discover photography and how did you decide that it was what you wanted to pursue professionally?
A) I knew right away after shooting a roll of black and white film when I was a teenager, that it was my medium. For the first time I was able to create an idea, exactly the way I imagined it.
Q) Your most recent work is set within a series of hotel rooms. How do you select these spaces and how long do you spend in each setting?
A) A lot of time goes into searching for the perfect hotel room, all of the rooms were chosen in hope that they would trigger something, but I never know exactly what is going to happen until I get there. Sometimes I spend a few days, and sometimes just one night.
Q) You describe the characters in this series as ‘unwanted aspects of your personality’. Was this project a means for you to confront parts of yourself which are difficult to face in the real world?
A) After becoming a mother I barely photographed for the following two years and I was starting to really crave it. But because my life had changed so much I felt I needed somewhere I could feel disconnected with my everyday life in order to be comfortable letting my guard down again. I got the idea for the hotel rooms after reading an article on 1950s housewives in Norway getting a paid vacation from the government. There were these official photos along with the article, of women in nice dresses and hats by the sea side. These women were getting a holiday because of their particularly difficult situation, and I started to imagine all the things they could have been doing, or the things I would have done.
Q) Many of your works seem to capture a very fragile moment. How do you create this fleeting and delicate effect?
A) I set my camera to photograph a certain amount of frames so I can forget about the technical aspect and get into my character. Then I suppose it´s a little like dancing, I try to feel and let it out through my movement.
Q) Many of your earlier portraits were shot within derelict and decaying buildings. What drew you to this type of environment and what do you feel it adds to the work?
A) At the time I was drawn to and felt connected with, the fact that most of these places only had a past and no future. Luckily I think things turned out better for me than for them.
Q) Do you have a piece which stands out in your mind as something you are exceptionally proud of or that is particularly important to you for emotional or sentimental reasons?
A) I think maybe the image “Uten Hode” ( without a head ), this was the first self portrait which led to ten years of self portraiture, so it was a bit of a milestone. It was shot in a burned down sewing factory in Hackney in 2002.
Q) What is your biggest source of inspiration?
A) I love to watch dance performances, especially by Nederlands Dans Teater or Pina Bausch. Contemporary dance has a beautiful way of poetically talking about everyday life. Bausch once gave one of her dancers advice: She said, 'You'll just have to get crazier.''' and this really got to me. It was like getting encouragement to do what I always thought I needed to stay away from.
Q) What exciting new projects do you have on the horizon?
A) I am just finishing the last images for my next show with The Little Black Gallery, titled "Starlets". I really got addicted to dressing up in "Do not disturb", and continuing to look behind the surface of seemingly flawless facades this time the emphasis is on the character and still using myself as the leading and only role in each story.
Q) Can you tell us a bit about your studio environment and how you like to work?
A) My only permanent work space is my home office. It´s a small room in our apartment, that holds all my costumes, wigs, hats and shoes, perfectly arranged by color. After we had our second daughter it has also become her bedroom. Her little crib is surrounded by all these beautiful clothes, and I think it sums me up pretty well! But when Photographing I need to be totally alone, its all me, I never involve anyone else.
Q) How do you like to relax outside of the studio?
A) On the sofa, laughing with Edith and Lucy!
Q) Do you think framing plays an important role in the final presentation of your work?
A) Yes, I have always felt that. Even back to my first shows, when I had no money, I would always spend everything I had on frames (and actually it was John Jones that framed my first show in London in 2001! )