Why catwalk snapper Anna Bauer has packed her paintbrushes for Dublin
The German photographer has put on hold her successful career shooting for Céline and Victoria Beckham and documenting the backstage buzz at fashion shows in order to take up a course in fine art in NCAD
Anna Bauer in her studio on Thomas Street in Dublin. Photograph: Cyril Byrne
Anna Bauer’s photograph of fashion icon Karl Lagerfeld
She has captured every major figure in fashion in her book Backstage, shot campaign imagery for Céline, Victoria Beckham, Zara and others, has photographed leading culinary and sports stars as well as travel stories from all over the world. Now, in a surprise move, the German photographer Anna Bauer, who had been based in New York, has put a very successful career on hold to study for an MFA in painting in NCAD in Dublin and has settled down to a new life in Stoneybatter.
In a recent issue of the Gentlewoman magazine, the camera was turned on her for a change, as she modelled gowns from Lanvin, Marc Jacobs and others, her fitness from body rolling and boxing very much in evidence.
“It was fun to dress up,” says Bauer, who is togged out in wet- weather cycling gear when we meet in a Dublin cafe. She is bright and articulate with a wide, disarming smile. She chose Ireland to study because she needed a break from New York after 12 years.
“I enjoy painting so much. It is so different to photography and Dublin takes me out of everything and I can really concentrate.” Her parents have a house in Tipperary, close to Dromineer, where her brothers race a Shannon One sailing boat. The mother of one of their friends, who had studied at NCAD, triggered Bauer’s interest in studying there. She moved to Dublin in September, and within a few days she had joined the Newmarket Food Co-op and Arbour Hill boxing club. “I like communities,” she says.
Bauer is from Marburg in Germany, home of the brothers Grimm. She grew up on a big farm, and after school she interned with a commercial photographer in Hamburg. That was followed by a period as a carpenter, “as I wanted something more grounded”, but she ended up moving to New York in 2002 to study for a BFA at the School of Visual Arts. “It takes a certain determination to be a photographer, but after assisting others, I slowly got my own jobs.”
Her first was photographing musicians for Fader magazine. At the time the magazine’s creative director was Phil Bicker, who had been one of the first to shoot Kate Moss for the Face years earlier in London. Later Bauer travelled the world for Gourmet magazine for two years, photographing chefs and locations until the magazine folded. In 2006 her pictures ended up in the National Portrait Gallery competition in London; one of the judges, Jenny Dyson, founder of a London Fashion Week freesheet, commissioned her to take photos backstage in 2007.
With the encouragement of Sean Cunningham, a well-known runway photographer, Bauer moved on to Paris on the last leg of the season. There her backstage work caught the attention of Fabien Baron, editor-in-chief of Interview magazine. He published eight pages of her portraits of musicians, artists and fashion insiders for a 40th-anniversary special edition.
This ultimately resulted in the publication of Backstage. Using a heavy, large- format camera, she captured major industry figures such as Anna Wintour, Karl Lagerfeld, Kate Moss, Cate Blanchett and Kanye West, along with backstage models, hairdressers and make-up artists. The directness, honesty and unity of these black-and-white portraits capture the transience of the industry.
Bauer’s big break came when Céline hired her to shoot backstage at its show, which was then followed by Victoria Beckham. “Then I started making money and ended up shooting more fashion. It’s a hard world to break into – it’s a hardworking world – and people are very dedicated, especially those doing hair and make-up. It is amazing the amount of skill and talent during fashion weeks. I have a big respect for the runway photographers; the last picture in my book is an homage to them because they don’t get a lot of credit.”
Her camera, like a modern version of the old Gandolfi, demands a different interaction from the subjects than digital snaps.
“People have to concentrate for two minutes and it does something to them. Mario Testino [a celebrated Peruvian photographer] took a long time, but did it in the end. He likes to control images himself. Karl Lagerfeld was so nice and has an appreciation of photography, though my flash wouldn’t go off and I was so nervous.”
Keeping fit is important to her. In New York she started boxing with legendary Panamanian trainer Hector Roca in Gleason’s, an old boxing gym in Brooklyn. Last summer she did a shoot with him and soccer player Franck Ribéry for Audi magazine.
“When they spar with you in New York, they tone down, but here sparring is rougher, and they start boxing at seven and eight and everybody wants to be Katie Taylor,” she says.
Painting and boxing relate to each other in a bizarre way, she says. “In each case you don’t know what is going to happen. In boxing you do know that someone wants to punch you, but you are really on your own in the ring. Both share an unknown outcome. I have not yet figured out why I like boxing, but I do think the world would be a better place if people started to do more martial arts.”
A love of colour drew her to painting. “I started with acrylics in New York, and with oil-painting classes, and I really like it, though it is very difficult.” In NCAD she has her own studio and is tutored by painter Robert Armstrong, working on colour and shape, and course director Declan Long. The painter Vicky Uslé, daughter of the Spanish painter Juan Uslé is a friend and “my other teacher”.
In June and July she plans to return to New York to shoot, make money and then come back. “Photography, when it works, is a great way to earn an income. I have no idea what painting will do and whether or not it will be lucrative, but I really enjoy doing things, and painting is very physical, though it will remain separate to photography. It’s a different mindset.”