“If someone would look at my work they’d know the photos were taken by a woman,” photographer Miriam Marlene Waldner declares. “It’s easier to photograph women because they understand my photography more and they’re open to my ideas about costume and dressing up.” Her photographs give a cinematic glimpse into stories that make references to classic fairy tales and take visual cues from films like Sofia Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides and 70s Australian cult classic Picnic at Hanging Rock. “When I take photographs of people,” Miriam explains, “I always say that I’m not putting out everything into the world, I’m showing a specific edited part of something.” Just like the movies Miriam’s work brings to mind, there’s a sense of sisterhood, of unspoken bonds, mystery and ritual, but it’s all elusive, all alluded to with a subtle wink.
“There’s definitely something mysterious [in my work],” Miriam reflects. “It scares me a little bit because I don’t know whether things like that really do exist or not. I don’t know if they could be real. It fascinates me.” Just like their visual quality, Miriam’s work conceptually blurs the line between reality and fantasy, toying with the power of suggestion. “I was always into costumes,” says Miriam, going on to explain that she always had an interest in fashion but was infinitely more interested in the fantasy world of creating characters and using costume.
“I try to capture what I see in the person I’m photographing - treading a fine line between setting something up and showing the person naturally. If it’s a mostly costumed based photograph, then it’s about finding a story and a character that connects with the person I’m photographing. With things like Instagram we’re constantly flooded by pictures but I try and create my own stories and ideas.”
I try to capture what I see in the person I’m photographing - treading a fine line between setting something up and showing the person naturally.
The 22-year-old photographer grew up in a small town on the outskirts of Berlin as part of a big family alongside her twin sister, two brothers and older sister. Miriam describes her relationship with her twin as “really close but also pretty different,” where her sister was outgoing, Miriam was the shy and quiet twin. “Those times, I tried to build up my own world in stories,” Miriam reveals, “I was always behind my sister and it made things easier, she would always speak and I would say nothing.” At around the age of 12, Miriam began to experiment with taking photographs, dressing up her twin sister to photograph. Miriam says it was her grandma, herself a keen picture taker, that first inspired and encouraged her interest in photography. Her grandma took photographs using light and reflections through coloured glass, she would project these onto objects, but she never photographed people - just what Miriam describes as “natural timeless things.”
Being a self-taught talent and having never formerly studied photography, Miriam’s philosophy on image taking is more concerned with the idea of the overall image than some of the more technical details of photography and cameras. “Oh god, I feel like a real photographer should have studied,” she worries. When I ask Miriam if she considers herself a professional photographer she says, “It seems a bit odd to say I’m not a professional photographer because it’s the main thing that I do.” Miriam always shoots on film and always uses natural light in her work, preferring to shoot in the great outdoors.
As a parting question I ask Miriam if she’s good at keeping secrets. Her reply comes with an impish smile: “If I want to - yes.”