Manja Wachsmuth is a Danish-born, Auckland-based photographer who specialises in shooting food. Luckily (and maybe not surprisingly), she loves eating great food shoot lunches (and food shoot leftovers for dinner). She can often be seen trying to work it all off, biking around Auckland Copenhagen-style with her two boys in tow.
Most recently, she’s been working on an eye-catching project about edible insects, for which she has won an international photography award.
What drew you to photography and styling?
I guess I knew quite early on that I wanted to be a photographer. I did some evening darkroom courses during my teenage years and fell in love with the craft. It took me quite some years to figure out how I was going to be able to work with photography as a job. Where I’m from there were press photographers and wedding photographers, and although I knew I wanted to work with photography, I knew I didn’t want to do that. So I spent years searching until I figured out that I could do a photographers’ apprenticeship and be a commercial photographer.
I was never really that keen on photographing a lot of people-based work, I just liked to photograph things on my path. When I started my apprenticeship, my boss specialised in shooting objects and food, so it was natural for me to go that way. It suits my personality as well. I’m a bit shy and introverted, so I do well with detail-orientated work that requires focus on the subject and not so much the interaction with people. That’s a skill that I’ve developed more over the years, but food remains my main focus and priority.
How does your Danish background influence your work? Has your style changed or evolved as a result of living in New Zealand?
I guess Danish design plays a big role in how I like to shoot. I prefer things clean and simple. Less is more is my mantra and in many ways I have a rather direct approach; I guess it’s partly my personality playing a role here, but definitely also the Danish-ness. I think the Danes like to call a spade a spade! My style has definitely evolved over the years, and I guess both trend and location plays a role. Kiwis like things to be down to earth and a bit retro, not too polished, so that’s definitely something I have taken on.
Where do you draw your inspiration from?
I love books. Cookbooks, art books, photography books, and magazines. Lots of inspiration from there. But also online of course. Instagram, Pinterest. And nature. Nothing gets creativity flowing like a good windy trip to the black sandy beaches of west Auckland.Where did the bug project spring from? What are you hoping to achieve with it?
It was originally a brief for a competition that asked entrants to produce a body of work playing with ‘the unfamiliar’. It sparked an idea of an art project based on my usual subject (food) but with bugs as the unfamiliar. I guess partly it was a development of ideas that had been lurking after buying the book ‘On Eating Insects’ by Nordic Food Lab (Noma) and working with chef Monique Fiso, shooting some of her food.
I wanted to create a series of images that were simple in their style and stunning to look at. I wanted them to look like regular food photography from afar, but for a close-up look to reveal the unfamiliar aspect, the bugs. The idea took shape from there, becoming more than just an art project but quite naturally also something to provoke a conversation about what you eat and how you eat it. I can be noble and say I wanted to just provoke a conversation about food sustainability, but of course as a creative business person, it’s also about collaboration with other creatives, about winning awards and about winning sustainable business. Isn’t that why we all create – to connect with others, get recognition and have fun while making a living?
Are you working on it alone or with others?
I created the first series with the super-talented Fiona Hugues. She’s been an amazing partner to work with. Very inspiring. For the second series I’m trying to incorporate some chefs I admire. And I’m hoping to do some more thought-provoking works with Fiona.