The Woman Who Never Existed

Photography by Anja Niemi


Even though Anja Niemi hate having her picture taken, she is the only model in her photographs. Anja stage and play out characters all by herself, feeling much more comfortable when she's alone, both in front and behind camera. 

"Using my self as the only model, means I can be as ruthless as I like. I can spend days repeating the same pose over and over again until I get it right, and I always leave room for intuition," Anja explained in an interview for our Volume Six. This spring she is exhibiting her latest series The Woman who never existed at several galleries around the world, amongst them Shoot Gallery in Oslo.

The inspiration for her latest character came from the words of the Italian actress Eleonora Duse. Eleonora worked the international theatre stage in the early 20th century. She was an introvert and she was private, rarely giving interviews, but she once famously told a pushy New York journalist, that ‘away from the stage I do not exist.’  

After reading her words, Anja could picture it all.

"It is a story about an actress who only exists in front of an audience, and when no one is looking she starts to disappear. All the characters are by my fictional actress, portraying her on stage and in and out of character. The portraits are based on vintage cigarette cards and show a range of the parts she supposedly played. Influenced by female leads from the early 20th century, she takes on roles like the bat character inspired by the super-villainess Irma Vep in the silent film Les Vampires from 1915."

I always loved dressing up, and I feel very privileged that I now get to do it for a living.

Anja spends so much time planning and collecting costumes and props, so when she finally get to transform into her character and make her ideas come to life, she gets an amazing feeling. "Turning into a toy soldier or a crying clown during the day helps me deal with the repetitiveness of everyday life," she says.

The character in her latest series spent so much time performing for her audience, that when they were gone, she lost all purpose. "I wanted her to be a reminder of having moments that are just for us, without needing validation from anyone."

Want to visit the exhibition? 
Shoot Gallery Oslo, March 9. - April 30.
Galerie Photo 12 Paris, March 16. - April 22.
The Little Black Gallery London, May 4. - 27.