Anja Niemi’s new In Character brings together six of the photographer’s series: Do not Disturb, Starlets, Darlene & Me, Short Stories, The Woman Who Never Existed, and She Could Have Been a Cowboy. In each, Niemi photographs, stages, and acts out her female characters, developing nuanced narratives of identity, gender, and selfhood.
Anja, your series, She Could Have Been a Cowboy, had you trekking out alone into the Utah desert. What was that like?
Walking through the red and pink canyons in Utah felt like being on a film set. It was so surreal, which is exactly what my work is to me — fiction, and an escape from the ordinary. But I was so nervous leading up to this trip; the thought of driving alone for weeks in this vast foreign scenery really scared me. I am not a particularity brave person, the opposite in fact, I am scared of most things. But my desire to visualize my ideas made me go a lot further than I normally would. I am also not physically strong, so hiking those national parks wearing 1940s wool riding pants and a big fringed leather coat was draining. I literally did not know if I would make it up the hill, but I did. Not on strength though, just willpower. With my mind focused on getting my picture, I had to remind myself to take it all in. It really was the most incredible place I had seen.
You have a particular eye for remarkable locations. How do you go about finding the places you want to photograph in?
When I have an idea, I can see the visuals I want almost right away. I know what I am looking for, so it’s just a matter of patience to search until I find it.