Photographer In Focus: Anja Bruehling

Anja Bruehling lives in Chicago, Illinois, USA

I first met Anja at a Leica Akademie workshop in Chicago, Illinois. Since we met, I have attended Anja’s gallery shows and Amy, Anja, and I have become good friends. Anja has a focus to her photography that I really admire. Her drive to execute projects with both precision and artistic ability is admirable. I learn something with every image of her work I look at.

From Ms. Bruehling’s website: "Anja Bruehling grew up in Germany with art and travel as part of her life. In 2000, her career brought her to the US where she now resides in Chicago. She has worked and travel to over 50 countries. Her travels have allowed her to experience and explore different cultures, meet people, make friends and look beyond the surface.

Anja's passions are people, diverse cultures and the human condition. As a photographer she makes her observations thru her eyes, heart and camera. She wants the world to see and remember places, prosperity, beauty, love, people and the socio economic problems they face."

Thank you Anja for taking time to share with RedDotBlueDot readers!

Five Foto Facts

First camera: Nikon Film camera ( I was 12)

Favorite camera: All my cameras! Love the Leica for shooting street and slowing down in documentary projects, the Sony mirrorless camera for travel photography and of course my Nikon as my sturdy workhorse for documentary photography, portraits and studio work.

Photographer who has most inspired you: Mary Ellen Mark, she was a friend and a mentor.

Favorite travel destination: Cape Town, South Africa – I lived there in 1991 for 6 months, too and we go back every year at least once. (Home is where the heart is.)

One place left on your travel bucket list: So many places, it would be hard to single out one. Love to travel and be on the road and explore new places and meet people and learn from them. 

4 Girls, Brick Workers, Anja Bruehling

4 Girls, Brick Workers, Anja Bruehling

The Interview

RDBD: Tell me a little bit about yourself.  What do readers need to know about you to get to know you?  What is your personal, professional, and photography background?

A.B.: In 2017 I gave up my global executive career to pursue my passion - documentary and fine art photography. I have worked and travelled to over 60 countries. My passions are documenting people, diverse cultures, social issues and the human condition around the world. I see the camera as a medium to stay curious more than ever and to make observations, explore places, prosperity, beauty, people and the socio-economic problems they face.

RDBD: What type of photography do you consider your primary genre and why? What does it mean to you?  How did you become focused on this area of photography?

A.B.: Documentary photography for sure. I like to work on projects for a longer period of time. This allows me to dive into one topic more in-depth and connect with the people, who I would have never met otherwise and learn so much from them. In the end we are all not that different and all want the same things. I am always interested in the background of the story and experience something new, which I wouldn’t normally encounter in my day to day life and then share my insights with the viewers and collectors and allow them to explore the story as well. 

In 2013 I did a workshop with Mary Ellen Mark and worked on one single project for 10 days. At first it was extremely challenging, especially since I am more on the introverted side. She made me go back to the same place and people every day. At first it was super difficult, she was a wonderful teacher and human being and opened my eyes to a new world. I then started my first longer term project Brick Workers on which I worked on for 4 years for extended periods of time each year. Through that work and her support, I started to understand…

RDBD: What motivates you as a photographer?  Specifically, why is photography important in your life?  When you are tired of shooting, what gets you out the door anyway?

A.B.: Telling stories, peeling back the layers of the story by going back again and again. Getting to know people, cultures and social documentary issues first hand and understanding and learning more – staying curious every day.  I am most motivated by the process of making the image and finding out more about what I am conveying with my images. Love the interaction with people through my photography, many of the people I photographed have become friends.

RDBD: Please tell me why you chose the image to submit as your one image.  What meaning does the image have to you?

A.B.: The image Four Girls is from my project Brick Workers, my first long-term project. I went back to India, which I have visited many, many times over the last 15 years, for four consecutive years and photographed the brick kilns for two weeks at a time. Each day I would visit 2-3 factories, and besides my own images I would also make some image for the wonderful people I met and bring them back to them the following day. The three girls tugged the sleeve of my T-Shirt one day and signed for me to photograph them. This photo reflects the way they wanted to appear in their portrait, I never stage my documentary work. There is so much beauty, dignity and perseverance in all the hardship of day to day life.

RDBD: In an era where everyone has a smartphone and selfies and micro-blogging daily activities are quickly becoming the norm, why does traditional photography still matter? 

A.B.: This is the world we live in now. And I feel we need to embrace it and make the most of it. There is a place for all. Now more and more people are interested in photography and the possibilities of communicating and getting your work out are endless.

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