Intimate Universal Messages

Elisa Massardo, Arte Al Limite Magazine, March 20, 2018

"Sometimes she’s alone, imagining the company she could have."

Other times she is joined by someone gentle and pale that she wants very badly to hit; other times there is no violence, the company is simple, submissive. However, they are always thin women, blondes, brunettes or even gingers. There are never more than two, and sometimes she’s alone, imagining new scenes that she could stage, thinking about the title of her next series The woman than never existed, Existed or Darlene & Me. This usually takes time, as the goal is no less complex than the motive: win over the faint-hearted beings that approach her work, thinking about how to unsettle, intrigue and compose a universal message.


If it were a musical composition, Anja Neimi’s work would be equivalent to Franz Liszt’s, an impetuous composer that expresses feelings freely and who is capable of being both extremely subtle and energetic from one moment to the next, capable of showing nature’s strength and its most peaceful stillness. The work by this Norwegian photographer presents the perfect harmony of each element. Nothing is missing nor lacking in her work, which is built upon details and moments, not really belonging to a real timeline. In her pieces, nothing is certain, they could simply be lies, but they could also be underlying realities, parallel or imagined universes. It’s the magic story that takes place in her imagination and that is capable of capturing with nothing but a camera, a lens, and herself. 


In the process

With no intentions of capturing her self-portrait and showing her life to the public like thousands of young people do nowadays around the world, Anja Niemi builds scenes, controls the lighting, selects the wardrobe to set the ambiance, interprets her own ideas and then acts as if she was the only character in her stories. The narrative is diverse and it fully depends on her. The same thing happens with makeup and wardrobe. She can spend months looking for the elements she needs for the potential paths and worlds she creates.


According to the artist, her pieces clearly reference absurd moments, where danger is constantly in the lurk as it is in David Lynch’s or Alfred Hitchcock’s films. However, she admits she relates much more to Edvard Munch, from whom she learned how to use her intimate and subjective world to create universal experiences. Undoubtedly, Claude Cahun inspired her to use ‘performing photographs’, in which she continuously explores ideas and herself through costumes and garments.


She could have been a Cowboy

In her latest series, Anja continues along the lines of self-exploration. On this occasion, the story she tells is about a woman who is trapped in a comfortably restricted life, wearing the same pink dress whilst dreaming of being a cowboy. The vast dry desert she captures in her pictures enthralls the viewers, reminding them of a dream. Once more, she addresses the idea of “being someone else,” and who hasn’t had that dream?


On a symbolic level, both the dress and its pink color evince the submission of women, an implied recollection of the times where women’s clothing was limited and pants or jeans were an unattainable dream, a garment strictly reserved for men. It’s also a shout-out to subjugated women and their fates on the private sphere, banished to the home to raise the children and remain quiet. Thus, the dream of being a cowboy represents a feeling of emancipation, the need to run free through the open field (America’s fields in this case), going as far as to question morals through the notion of killing to survive, to wear jeans, fringe, and leather, old Western style.


Creating these pieces was everything but simple. For her to be able to interpret, live and really be the sort of woman who wants to be a cowboy, Anja spent some time alone on a rental car, she visited and photographed the sites, she went up and down the United States’ mountains and national parks, and she rode a horse in the countryside, always fearless and in character.