When Making Photographs, Only Good Reasons Matter: With Anna K. Baur

The gods create the days, after that, it is left to us to live through them as we want. And in living and availing oneself to life, the best and most beautiful things that happen will not be seen or even touched. Even the best photographs are the ones the photographer sees and cannot make, or for personal reasons, doesn’t make because the present moment, however fleeting, is usually the only important moment. The best scenes in time are usually felt with the heart, an internal eventuality, an external eventuality, which is related closely to the feeling of happiness. Even if you are not into photography, and even If your soul’s plan is to conquer the anxiety that comes with moving through life by living in the moment, or living in every breath, every human, which is what we all are before we become anything else, still has the natural understanding of the fact that some moments are very special and the memory of it must be preserved, however minute, which is exactly the foundation of how the art of photography functions. Some of us see the moments we wish to preserve as soon as we step into a scene, and some of us only sometimes do we care to notice the extra happenings around us. And to fully support these two ideologies, the quantity of art doesn’t matter, only good reasons matter in Photography. Like, for what reasons should anyone care about an image when they set eyes on it, and if they don’t already care about it when they see it, what good reason can make a human love a photograph? In any case, most times the image(s) speaks for itself.

Consistently, we, Random Photo Journal created a Journal Project focused on African unification through collective memories and we reach out to frequent or non-frequent travellers around the continent and ask them to share a series of images that represent a memory about a place they visited, currently or in the past, attached with a story that led to why they made such images. This project is an experimental medium that seeks to include, more than those on the continent, but those who are in diaspora and visit randomly to share stories about returning, either as a form of reconnection with the natural space or for friends and family.

In this new Journal Project, we are in conversation with Anna K. Baur, a good half of heartxwork and former Editor-in-Chief of Blondemagazine. The conversation started from a co-working interrelation where we first discussed Virgil Abloh’s involvement in Ghanaian skateboarding through Surf Ghana for an article featured in the latest issue of Nylon Germany where Anna also serves as contributing editor, it was in this period of artistic exchange that we found out a part of her is Nigerian. This new realization about her brought up other topics which we treated in this interview, subjects like home, family and reunification, and all the many forms that being at home could take in these times of migration and post lockdown. For Anna, she considers being at home, either with herself or with her very rare subjects, by feeling welcomed, and without any doubt that she is meant to be in the same environment as who she is connecting with, a thing that cannot be seen or touched. No strange or external feelings. Very familiar. The internal conclusion of seeing yourself in other people. And, with the world as with people, you know only the tiny percentage you pay close attention to.

Hello Anna and welcome to Random Photo Journal! Has home taken a new meaning for you since you last visited Nigeria and did you get the answers you sought out?

For me, the meaning of home is people not places. When I was little, being around my mom and my grandparents were home. Now I feel at home around my partner and best friends. Visiting my father and brothers and sisters in Nigeria didn’t change my meaning of home, but it opened up more possibilities to learn and grow, expanding my horizons. To feel at home with them, I have to spend way more time with them. 

I didn’t come with questions. I was looking more for a feeling. And I got this feeling the first time I met my father at a parking lot in Abuja. It was the feeling of being whole. 

I visited Nigeria, more exact Abuja, for the first time in 2018. Just for two weeks. I have never been there since. But I plan to come by again soon. I am very interested, not just in my family there, but also in the country and people and culture in general. Lagos will be my next stop. 

What do these images represent and why did you feel like you’ve got to document the most of them

In private, I am not a person who usually makes a lot of images to document life. I try more to live in the moment than to constantly think about how I can hold the moment on a video or image. But before I went to Nigeria, an editor at Refinery29 Germany heard about it and asked me to document the experience for them. So I also took the images because it was a job. 

But of course, also my family and friends in Germany wanted to see images of my family in Nigeria. So I also did it for them. 

What culture shock did you experienced or didn’t expect? 

That I never felt safe freely moving around on my own in Abuja. First, the stewardess on the plane told me that she is not allowed to go out of the Hilton Hotel while she is in Abuja, because insurance would not cover it. And also my father and brother insisted that my Mom and I should always stay with them. I travelled a lot in my life, and also have been in areas where it’s not supposed to be safe, but I moved around anyway. But it was the first time in a city, where everybody I met told me I should not go anywhere on my own. So I felt dependent, and that sucked. 

As a media person who does a lot of online research, was Nigeria what you expected given there is mostly bad press on the African continent in general? 

I have been on the African continent before. So I knew the news we see in the newspapers or on TV is just one specific little part of what is really going on. I also follow Nigerian artists, musicians and photographers on Instagram, so I also focused more on the cultural and subcultural scene than the politics related bad press the mass media is focused on. 

Do you have a favourite image from your Nigerian photo collection, and is there a story behind it? 

It’s difficult to point out one favourite image. They all mean a lot to me. But there is a special story behind the image below. One evening, my father wanted to introduce me to an important person in his tribe. My youngest brother and I were waiting in the living room, eating nuts, while my father was talking to the man. During this time I took a snapshot of my brother. After my father and the owner of the house came back, this man gave me my Nigerian name: Chioma. Since then, my father calls me by this name. I think the name is very beautiful. But so far I didn’t use it. 

Also, I like all the images where you can see part of a finger on it. I used a disposable camera, the Kodak Funsaver, to make the images. If you press a button you can use the flashlight. But you have to press it while you take the image. I told my brother, who also was taking images with the camera and it took a while till he found out how to press the button without having his finger in front of the lens. So a lot of these pictures are made by him. Good memories.

What do you consider a “good image”

An authentic one. I love an image when it transports something real. Capturing a person, a subculture, a city like it is, with all flaws and imperfections, because that’s perfection for me. And it’s the only way to create a real feeling while looking at it.

Can you talk a little about your artistic process and motivations? 

I am so bored with the mass media. Not because it’s all bad, but because it changes so slow and it’s so stiff. Also, it has so much power over what people like, dislike and think. I think it’s very important to build platforms where also minorities can be represented. Sometimes it is easier to change things when you built your own table with your own people and not be the one person with the seat at a table, who tries to get everybody else with other views and opinions at your site. That’s why I co-founded the magazine and production company heartxwork in 2019.  No matter if I work as a creative director, creative producer or editor, I am very much into the authenticity in everything I do. It’s very important for me to produce stories from different perspectives, not just about different demographics, but authored by those groups.