“Memory spaces” are what Anna Lehmann-Brauns calls the interiors she captures in luminous color on film. Her works give the viewer a glimpse into a cinematic future, into a deserted world where today’s life remains just a memory.
The empty interiors, that we usually see inhabited, cast their own particular spell, as we ourselves experience when we visit the Zoo Palast Berlin with Anna. Built in the ’50s, the cinema is one of the steeped-in-history sites that feed her fascination with big cities, and is one she’s hoping to get on camera. “I’ve known this place since I was a kid, it’s part of my story,” says the Berlin-born photographer as we roam through the cinema in search of the perfect photo subject. The small cinema club room with its red velvet chairs and walls lined with wooden bookcases stands out as the choice. It’s the living room atmosphere that excites Anna, “I never knew this room was here,” she says, as she sets up her camera. “You discover so much in my field of work. Interiors for me are like treasure boxes.”
It’s clear from visiting Anna’s home that memories also play a big role here. Throughout the space, modern meets retro design are complemented by collector’s pieces and memorabilia. Hanging on the walls are works by artist friends. “I absolutely love swapping photos with my friends,” she says. Many of her possessions tell their own stories. The imposing ’60s style chandelier that hangs over the plain dining table is her pride and joy. “That’s an original piece from the Westin Grand Hotel on Unter den Linden,” she says, beaming. The huge, shiny silver lamp fills the open-plan kitchen with a warm light. It’s easy to settle in and feel at home here.
“I don’t really do architecture photography, for me it’s more about capturing feelings and memories in certain spaces.”
How did you get into photography?
I actually studied psychology. At some point though I just had a crisis and thought, ‘I have to do something creative!’ There was nothing to suggest that it would be photography of all things—the photos that I took as a child were always terrible. It was more by chance that I did a photography course and was introduced to the art form.
How did you come to shoot interiors, even though you were initially fascinated by portraiture?
I think I’m, quite simply, just too shy to do portraits. For me, a good portrait is something that goes beyond the intentions of the person being photographed. As a photographer, you must cross a boundary and I just can’t do that. Because of this, I started by making models of rooms that reminded me of certain people, and I photographed these instead. That was a kind of art portrait. And so my interest in interiors began. I don’t really do architecture photography. For me it’s more about capturing feelings and memories in certain spaces. In this sense there’s a close link to portraiture.
What are the interiors that you photograph like?
Many of the spaces that I shoot reference the past, they’re memory spaces. It could be an old hotel lobby or a bar. Often my subjects have something to do with my own past. Lots of the interiors that I’ve photographed don’t exist anymore. For me, it’s really important to capture certain situations of light and color. The themes of ‘stage’ and ‘backdrops’ run through all my works.
In the past you’ve also photographed empty film sets. Has film as a theme had a strong influence on your work beyond this?
That’s a really good point. I get so much inspiration from films. For example, I love Woody Allen and David Lynch, but also French directors like Truffaut and Godard. And then of course other photographers whose works I admire and some who I’ve actually got to know in person. American photographers like Stephen Shore, William Eggleston, and Saul Leiter also come to mind. They’ve influenced me for a long time and still continue to be sources of inspiration.
How do you find out about the interiors that you photograph?
It really depends. Often people tell me that they’ve seen a space that I absolutely have to get on camera. These suggestions sometimes come to nothing though, because the spaces they suggest end up being too playful looking. Although my photos are really colorful, they have a certain severity. Sometimes it also happens that when I’m in a space I suddenly see a composition that I hadn’t thought of before.
“The biggest reward comes when I successfully manage to capture an image the way I’ve had it in my head.”
Do you go into a space with a specific plan or do you just let yourself be inspired on site?
In most cases I already have a specific photographic composition in my mind. Whether that actually works out in reality, that’s another question. The biggest reward comes when I successfully manage to capture an image the way I’ve had it in my head.
Why did you decide on Zoo Palast for today’s shoot?
The Zoo Palast is really interesting for me on many levels. For one, it’s part of my own past as a West Berliner. Then, of course it also has this cosmopolitan charm, this run-down relic of the old West and the grandeur that’s typical of old cinemas. Beyond that, there are unbelieveable colors here and wonderful lighting. Unfortunately, I did not take the perfect picture today.
Does that mean that you sometimes need multiple attempts to get the perfect shot?
Yes, sometimes it’s not enough just to go to a location once. One time I had to shoot a really huge, opulent curtain in a cinema and I ended up going back four times in total.
Do you have a dream photo subject?
I’m really intrigued by Berghain. It’s already been suggested to me lots, but unfortunately you’re not allowed to take photos there. I’d also be interested in shooting South American telenovelas. I’ve already shot on film sets in Germany, but that would really be something else, the series play such a special role over there.
The stage at play in the photography of Anna Lehmann-Brauns
Is it difficult to get permission to access various locations?
It depends. Usually it all works out somehow, but of course you need to give people an idea why the location absolutely has to be photographed. For example, once I was in Berlin’s Neukölln area and took some pictures in a smokers’ café that had this crazy lighting. The owner just didn’t understand and kept asking what I was doing and if I was from the police. I was just like, “No, I’m making art!”
Your photos radiate all types of nostalgia. What influence do memories have on your work?
Memories are so important for my work. I live a lot in my memories and am also pretty sentimental. I think that’s not always a good quality. But I have a fear of everything at some point just disappearing. My photos are also always an attempt to hold on to the present.
Your shots allow the viewer to just take a moment; they give off an unbelievable sense of calm. Do you think calmness is something we lack today? Does photography offer a way of getting this back?
I do think that my style of photography brings me to a certain state of calm. I work with a tripod and really long exposure times so the images that come from this are often really different to the ones we hastily consume everyday. I’m not one to think that everything used to be so much better in the old days and that we have to return to that slower pace. But, I do sometimes think it’s a shame that something like that is under threat.