The Feminine Construct

Bringing Costume And Photography Together In First Ever NYC Exhibition For Norwegian Contemporary Artist

It’s an exciting time for Anja Niemi. Since studying at the London College of Printing and Parsons School of Design in Paris and New York, she has steadily cemented a reputation as one of the most compelling contemporary artists of our time. Photographing in Costume is her first US solo show, bringing together multiple series of beautiful and evocative depictions of women in states of incapacitation, in a unique curation by Andi Potamkin and Samantha Choppa.

Room 81 (Bed) © Anja Niemi
Room 39 © Anja Niemi
The Receptionist © Anja Niemi

Anja’s characters seem hesitant, floundering and incapable. Awkwardly face-down on the floor, or frozen against the side of a bed, they portray the elegance of constructed normative femininity up against a contrary environment, one which seeks to destabilize and unmask them. Anja’s strength as an artistic director and photographer is to capture the image moments before insecurities are revealed, evoking a comic touch to an otherwise dark, morose and overwhelming portrait of the feminine. “My images often have a dark undertone,” she tells us. “But I like to introduce it in a comic or entertaining way, so it’s easier to take in and relate to.”

The Chrysler © Anja Niemi
The Desert © Anja Niemi
The Garden Hose © Anja Niemi

With photography and costume as her primary mediums, Anja is renowned for working entirely alone on her projects, ensuring that all different aspects of the process are directed through her own creative energies. With the exhibition designed as an installation of Anja’s props, costumes and sets, the visitor will have the experience of walking through Anja’s thorough creative process.

The Desert House © Anja Niemi
The Backyard © Anja Niemi
The Pool House © Anja Niemi

We were excited to catch up with Anja for her thoughts on the upcoming exhibition:

The Plus: Tell us about yourself and your background in art and fashion.
Anja Niemi:
I studied photography in New York, and spent the following years starting off my career in the UK. I am now based in Norway but represented by The Little Black Gallery in London. I don’t have a background in fashion but my interest in clothes started when I began using costumes in my work. It has become an important part of my process and I spend a lot of time collecting the right pieces for the characters. I have to admit I get more excited about my costumes than my cameras!

The Wife © Anja Niemi

TP: Can you tell us some stories behind these pictures and your inspiration for them?
My characters tend to seek an elusive state of perfection and consistently find themselves defeated. We have the habit of wanting too much and I think it’s important to lighten up and have a laugh about our shortcomings and admit to our disappointments.

The Mistress © Anja Niemi

TP: Your work seems to be concerned with the construction of femininity. Are there any feminist artists or thinkers that have strongly influenced you in this regard?
All my characters have been female so far, but I hope my comments are general and can speak to both sexes. There are some amazing women to be inspired by off course! The choreographer Pina Baush is probably the one who has had the most influence on my work over the last few years.

The Starlet © Anja Niemi

TP: There is a strong theme here of ‘confronting oneself’. What does this mean for you? Is this something you return to in your work?
I have been coming back to this for years. I always work alone. I photograph, shoot and stage everything by myself. I think a combination of my work process and being an introvert is why this keeps reappearing.

Room 81 (suitcase) © Anja Niemi

TP: What does costume mean to you?
I spend months forming the characters wardrobe before I shoot them – I love that stage! The clothes and wigs are what make them into people, and also what allows me to get comfortable in front of the camera. Ironically, I hate having my picture taken, it’s only when in costume that I can get into it. They are my camouflage!

The Secretary © Anja Niemi

TP: What are your plans for the rest of the year?
It’s a busy year! After Photographing in Costume, we are showing my latest series Short Stories at Photo London followed by an exhibition at The Little Black Gallery. My book with the same name designed and published by Jane & Jeremy books will be out at the same time. Then the rest of the year I start production on my next series that will debut at Photo San Fransisco in 2017. All in all I’m feeling pretty grateful about my busy schedule!

The Swimming Pool © Anja Niemi
The Terrace © Anja Niemi
The Trunk © Anja Niemi

The Little Black Gallery
presents Photographing In Costume by Anja Niemi at Burning In Water Gallery New York from 2 March – 2 April.