Interview by Diana Kimball


Diana Kimball: Your class, Photographer as Auteur, established from the very beginning that it would place photographers in a certain role.  How did you acclimate to the role of auteur, and what did you discover along the way?


Nikki Anderson: That’s a really interesting question (as all your questions here are!) and I’m not sure I have an answer. We didn’t take about what it means to be an auteur all that much. Are my photos as distinct and instantly recognizable as a Woody Allen movie? I don’t think so. But I do think that if someone were to look at my first photography project, from last semester, and then had to identify which project was mine among everyone’s projects in my current photography class, they would be able to. I am drawn to photographing people I love, often in domestic spaces, and I think there is something humble, quiet and intimate in these photos as there were in photos I took of my mother and sister for my previous project. So perhaps something has been discovered along the way, even if I find it difficult to put it in words. In this class I really learned how difficult, and important, the presentation of photographs can be. I thought you were done once you printed a photo, but in trying to make a book that would convey the same intimacy that I had aimed for in photographing Elisa, I realized how much can be lost if it isn’t done right, how much thought goes in to making a book. 




DK: Your photographs of Elisa capture moments of introspection and accident.  How did spontaneity and control interact in your photographic process?


NA: That’s beautifully put; “introspection and accident”, “spontaneity and control”. That seems to be an accurate description of any documentary style attempt at photographing someone, at least to me; exercising control on the spontaneous flow of life when you press your index finger down on the shutter button. I certainly found myself photographing moments when she was preparing for her day more often than anything else; I can’t tell you how many photos I have of her drinking tea at our table, getting dressed, or throwing things in to her purse before leaving. Those moments seem more likely to hold the possibility of spontaneity than sitting in an armchair reading or working at one’s computer.


DK:  What drew you to Elisa as a subject?




NA: It was a cold winter and I didn’t want to leave our apartment! That’s sort of a joke. Anyways, I moved off campus for the spring semester and had initially thought of photographing the small percentage (I think it’s like 3%?) of Harvard students who live off campus, that maybe it would be interesting to see them in spaces so different from Harvard dorms…but then I took some photos of Elisa and I didn’t want to move on to anyone else, I just wanted to keep photographing her. I prefer photographing people I really care for, and though I didn’t know Elisa before I moved in, she came to mean so much to me, as did our apartment. And, after these few months, I still feel like I’ve just begun. I think it’s an enormous thing to photograph one person. I love Harry Callahan’s photographs of his wife, Eleanor…I love Virginia Woolf’s “Mrs. Dalloway”…part of me wanted to see what it would be like to photograph just one person for a few months. 




DK:  Of these, which is your least favorite photograph?  What bothers you about it?  Why did you include it anyway?


NA: My least favorite might be the one of Elisa in the bathtub. I only photographed her taking a bath this one time. It was one of the last photos I took of her, so in some ways, I guess we had to reach that comfort level through the camera. I included it because it seemed important just in terms of variety, and also because it’s the one photo where she is not clothed; she’s vulnerable, even though the photo doesn’t seem to play that up. And it’s also admittedly voyeuristic, because these photos are privileged glimpses in to her life, so it should include an admission of the voyeurism I think, not a blatant or loud admission of voyeurism, but one in keeping with the quietness in the other photos. I certainly like the ‘purpose’ of this photograph, but maybe it’s not the most successful photograph in itself. 


DK: Elisa’s hair, in these photographs, seems to stand in for so much emotion—damp, dry, naked.  What other thematic elements emerged as you worked through the project?


NA: Morning, getting ready, drinking tea. In most of the photos I took, her gaze is averted from the camera, as if she wasn’t aware someone was photographing her, which was sometimes natural and sometimes perhaps a bit forced, as if she felt she couldn’t look at me. I don’t know if ‘gaze’ qualifies as a ‘thematic element’. 


DK:  What do you know now that you didn’t know when you began?


NA: There is so much left out of the photographs that made it in to the book and those here: cooking, reading, folding laundry, skype conversations, smoking hookah on Friday nights. Even in limiting myself to photographing Elisa in the apartment, it was impossible to complete a comprehensive portrait of life in our domestic space in just a few months. Maybe not impossible, but too much for me–to have done this project in the way I first imagined I would have needed the camera to be hung around my neck at all times, and I couldn’t do that. What do I know now, then? I guess acceptance of the inability to capture ‘everything’ if I am going to photograph people I love, because there must be a compromise between documenting and living. 



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