Using photography, Anna Neubauer beautifully challenges the underrepresentation of young people with disabilities and visible differences
After becoming discouraged by the “narrow concepts of beauty” in the mainstream fashion industry, the London-based photographer sought out a more inclusive way of applying her creativity.
- Olivia Hingley
- 11 May 2022
When starting out as a photographer, Anna Neaubauer tells us that she was “truly obsessed with the fashion industry”. Her single biggest dream was “to work on huge campaigns with a massive budget and team” the kind of productions she explains, “you would see in America's Next Top Model”. But, after a short stint in the fashion industry, it wasn’t long before Anna became disillusioned by the “narrow concepts of beauty”, and she left, finding herself “hopeless and lost”.
After a period of introspection, however, Anna came to realise how dynamic her chosen medium has the potential to be. “Photography is incredibly powerful”, she says, “and it contributes in shaping how we see the world and people around us”. Paying testament to her childhood – she attests to growing up in a very “diverse” and “open-minded” family – and beginning to work with the agency Zebedee (which represents models and creatives with disabilities or visible differences) Anna then set herself on using her photography for good. “I now know that by showing raw and honest images and telling stories of people who often don’t get to be heard, I can contribute to a more open, diverse and inclusive society.”
Throughout Anna’s works, while they show such a variety of situations, people and places, she manages to craft a consistently warm, sensitive and peaceful feel throughout her work. When talking us through how she creates such an atmosphere, Anna tells us that lighting is key. “I love working with natural light which I think is generally a bit warmer. In addition, in the editing process, I usually opt for warmer colours as opposed to cold ones.” She’s also keen to always try and get a vintage, old-fashioned feel into her work; “I love the cinematic and retro feel of an image”, she shares. But perhaps her greatest tool is her personability, and learning to read her subjects. “One thing I had to learn is that sometimes what I think are the smallest details can be a big deal for a model and can throw them off. I want people I shoot with to be themselves and feel comfortable and natural in the shoot.” Now focusing heavily on getting to know who she is working with and breaking the ice is a foremost step of the photographer’s. “Finding out what motivates them and what makes them laugh helps us both open up and adds emotion to the photos.”
This approach is one that particularly helped Anna throughout a project with Harper’s Bazaar Brazil, a recent favourite of hers. The young boy featured in the series, Ryan, Anna explains to have Treacher Collins Syndrome, a rare genetic condition. But, in focusing on creating a carefree, and nostalgic look at childhood, Anna tells us that “I wanted to make sure to show the person, not the condition”. Featuring Ryan alongside two friends, Valeria and Isla, the project primarily depicts their “beautiful friendship”. “I think what I love most about it is that the images reflect some sort of carelessness. The editorial really reminds me of my own childhood and how lucky I am to have grown up in such a safe place.” Aiming to get the photos as spontaneous and candid as possible, Anna bought things for the kids to play with, and when she began getting inventive with her tools – using the translucent lid of a jar of marbles to take photos through – the children were instantly intrigued, wanting to see how it changed the photos. “We all had so much fun”, Anna adds. She sums up: “If everyone sees a human, or in this case a boy like Ryan, they will see someone who’s incredibly loving, kind, funny and smart. With more photos like these, I hope we can start to change representation.”
Anna Neubauer: Follow Me, Adobe (Copyright © Anna Neubauer/Adobe, 2021)
About the Author
Olivia joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in November 2021. A graduate of the University of Edinburgh with a degree in English literature and history, she’s particularly interested in illustration, photography, ceramic design and platforming creativity from the north of England.