Sunday, September 24

The kiss that ended the chaos: Anna Neubauer’s best photograph | Photography

I was thrilled when I got my first booking as a professional photographer. Until then, I’d treated photography as a side hustle, something I experienced with around other work. But when a well-known company approached me to shoot their new collections I felt I’d really arrived. We planned a few sessions, but about 30 minutes into the first one I was taken to one side and asked to crop out the model’s face from her. Apparently she did n’t look quite the way the client had imagined when looking at her portfolio of her. The person who spoke to me actually described her as “really ugly”. I’m ashamed I didn’t walk out there and then.

I did later manage to free myself from that client, but the experience left me determined to never collaborate with anyone who thought that way. Though I was excited by the idea of ​​working in fashion photography, it highlighted how narrow the concepts of beauty can be in the industry. This reiterated what I’d learned growing up in a small town in Austria where everyone I saw on TV was white and representations of disability were very stereotypical. There was a degree of diversity in my own family that I just didn’t see reflected.

But I moved to London in 2019 and started working with an agency called Zebedee, which represents models and creatives with disabilities or visible difference. That became the focus for a commission I worked on with Adobe last year, when I was asked to provide 20 portraits. I was staying with my boyfriend’s family near Plymouth and put a call out on Facebook asking for models. One of the responses was from the family of Megan, who appears in this picture.

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Megan was five when I met her. She has Down’s syndrome and is nonverbal but we are really connected, partly through play. We were blasting the Moana soundtrack and the music from Frozen, which she loved. It just happens I know all the words so that was a great way to break the ice. There was a lot of dancing around and laughing. Megan really reminded me of myself at that age. Just like her, I was unable to sit still for 10 seconds. That also meant it wasn’t easy to get pictures of her looking at the camera, but working with children is usually chaotic anyway – I just try to work around what they’re doing. In this case, I was more like a friend hanging out with the family. I’d only pick up the camera every once in a while.

I got several shots I was happy with, including one taken through a blue plastic folder I had with me. Megan had an older sister, Mia, who I’d been told was too shy to be photographed but as soon as I saw them together, I realized how much Megan admired her sister de ella. I really wanted to get a photo of the two of them.

It was quite a moody day and the light in the room wasn’t great, but I try to work with natural light whenever possible, even on fashion shoots. Subjects, especially kids, tend to be more relaxed when they’re not surrounded by lights and lots of equipment, plus it means the shoot can be more spontaneous. I don’t think this shot would have happened in a cluttered set-up. When Mia kissed Megan’s forehead, the chaos surrounding the rest of the shoot fell away and everything seemed to stand still.

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When I first got into photography, I honestly never imagined my work having a positive impact on others, so it’s a real honor whenever anyone messages me to say they’ve been touched by one of my pictures. I remain determined to do everything in my power to change the way the industry operates. It still feels like there’s a long way to go – we don’t see enough images of people with disabilities just living their everyday lives. But it does feel like the inclusion revolution is gradually moving forward and I’m proud to be a part of it.

Anna Neubauer is a finalist in the Portfolio category of the Sony World Photography Awards. The competition’s exhibition is at Somerset House, London, 13 April to 2 May.

Anna Neubauer.

Anna Neubauer’s CV

Born: Rohbach, Austria, 1992.
Trained: Self-taught.
influences: “Music, people’s stories, nature, my dreams.”
High-point: “Being named Adobe Rising Star of Photography in 2021.”
Low-point: “When that client told me to crop a model’s face.”
top tips: “Surround yourself with people who inspire you. Be patient, trust yourself and the process.”

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