Anja Hammaecher

Anja Hammaecher


by Anja Hammaecher (Germany)

Living in Switzerland, working as a manager, amateur photographer. With this project I tried an approach that I have not tried before. I did one step from taking individual snapshots to make a series of pictures, which I arranged actively to obtain pictures that would look alike with similar compositions.

Portfolio from the Documentaire workshop with Patrick Zachmann, October 2012.

Written review by ERIK VROONS,
Editor-at-large for GUP Magazine

Anja encountered random, anonymous people on the street, and approached them to ask if she could make a portrait – then and there. On beforehand, Anja decided on the concept – all portraits in the same format and style, and from a similar angle and distance. As a result, the background/surrounding literally gets on the background, in the way that it becomes secondary information.

These are the intentions on beforehand; the working plan. But then comes the more challenging elements: how to get the people act in the way you, the photographer, had in mind to keep control over the concept for the series? What I see in the ‘petit selection’ is that, besides the previous mentioned formal settings (i.e. black/white, format, style – also due to the use of the same camera – distance), due to the gestures imposed by the people photographed, all images have a different ‘feel’ ; not only are they expressing different emotions (that’s ok – all people are different and you might want to enlarge that in your series) but the individual images also reflect a wide range of ‘ photographic moments’.

In other words, although many parameters are set on beforehand, helping to make the concept, the individual images still are expressing to many varieties to give the feeling that the pictures together ‘ belong’ together. Most urgent is that the pictures lack some monumental value; despite the formal conceptual approach, individually, the images lack an artistic signature that gives a singular, idiosyncratic view from the photographer on how she sees the world. For example, Anja’s approach in many ways reminds of the Magnum photographer Bruce Gilden, but his pictures are always standing out as typically his. This is what counts for any (portrait) photographer: to have a recognisable style or approach that is consistent and outstanding.

My advise to Anja would be to continue in the working method – have random people in the street portrayed – but, to come back to my example of Bruce Gilden, maybe not give the people time to ‘ pose’. For that is what is most in the way here: there is a gap between the intentions (formal concept) and the result (snapshot portraits) that needs to be resolved. Maybe it would help the photographer to make a decision: either taking more or less control in the process. Meaning: either choose the street photographers approach (as Bruce Gilden does) or decide to spent more time with the people portrayed and treat them as ‘models’, instructing them to take (or avoid) certain poses.

Also, be aware of the surroundings. In the ‘ street photographers’ approach you’ll have less control over the background but then the pictures should also reflect that spontaneity. If you decide for a more formal portrayal, then I think the concept should also function for the background. In the latter case, it would be a strategic decision for the photographer to choose a location, be static and only ask people to be photographed in that pre-set surrounding.

My final suggestion would be to think of technical support that helps to create your visual ‘ signature’. Mid-format camera, flash, or the use of the effects of natural light (morning looks different from afternoon; winter gives different light than summer) would be something worth to consider.

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