Photography is not just about seeing, it is also about being seen. Anna Spindelndreier knows what is meant.
People like Anna Spindelndreier broaden our perspective. With her work as a photographer and photo editor, she tries to educate and draw attention to injustices.
Outside: In Dortmund’s Kreuzviertel district it looks a bit like France or Berlin-Prenzlauer Berg, says Anna Spindelndreier: lots of greenery, villas, old buildings, small cafés, families with children, artists, wine shops and small restaurants. The street in front of the old building where she lives is lined with trees. It’s raining on this Saturday afternoon and cars rush by on the wet street. When the sun comes out again, the puddles become spotlights and the white hydrangeas shine. “It’s like a bubble,” says Anna Spindelndreier. “I have everything here and don’t even need to leave the neighborhood.” Not far away and contrasting with the old town flair is BVB’s Westfalenstadion. Many fans call it “temple”. “Amor” – “Love” can be read as graffiti on a wall.
Inside: “Welcome to my little kingdom,” says Spindelndreier and switches on the coffee machine. All windows of the kitchen and living room face the street. In summer it has morning sun. She shines between the trees, that’s beautiful. The apartment is simple, there are hardly any pictures on the walls. “I like looking at the white, empty walls.” Spindelndreier is a photographer. If she were photographing landscapes, she might hang up more. There is only one photo of palm trees that was taken in San Diego, USA, when Spindelndreier photographed one of the best wheelchair skaters for her book “Sit ‘N’ Skate”. There are also some books by Annie Leibovitz, her favorite photographer, on a shelf. There are also some house plants and a flower wreath and old cameras, a Polaroid, a Mamiya on the dresser as decoration.
Beginnings: The 36-year-old doesn’t remember her very first picture. “It must have been one of these.” She rummages through a small box and shows a photo of her communion, in which her brother and cousins look seriously into the camera. She took the photo with her first camera, a gift from her godfather. She was nine at the time and the camera still works today. Photos from school trips, holiday camps and ski trips are also in the small box. Then Anna Spindelndreier shows other pictures: churches and museums, landscapes and sunsets. “Lots of sunsets,” she says. It was her father who sparked her interest in photography. He was a publisher and had a light table where he looked at slides he got for the books through a magnifying glass. They were beautiful depictions of nature. “For me it was like the door to the other world.”
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Childhood: Anna Spindelndreier was born in Hamm (North Rhine-Westphalia) in 1987. With achondroplasia, the most common form of short stature. This physical quality has indirectly become her trademark as a photographer, she says. And: She could say that she had a wonderful childhood. Her parents tried to make everything possible for her and her brothers. She was the first in the family to graduate from high school. “Nevertheless, my childhood was also characterized by body acceptance, visits to the doctor and speech therapy.” Her parents divorced when she was 14 years old. It was clear to Spindelndreier long before she left Hamm that she would be leaving Hamm. The best thing about her Westphalian hometown was the good train connections, she says. “As a teenager, I took the train to other cities a lot.”
Ways: When Anna Spindelndreier wanted to become a photographer after graduating from high school, her mother advised her against it. “She said I should learn something ‘sensible’, but I knew she wanted to protect me from rejection.” After 80 applications, she got a training place and decided to study photography in Dortmund. She now works there as a freelance photographer, primarily at inclusive events. “It is a plus for the organizers to have a photographer like me there.” She is also a deputy photo editor at the WirtschaftsWoche and until recently was also part of a creative agency. But the advertising industry isn’t for her, she says, she wants to go back to photojournalism – and especially activism.
Engagement: Whether she calls herself an activist? She can’t answer that, says Spindelndreier, even if others see her as such – in 2019 she won the Edition F Award “25 women who move our society with their voice”. From 2007 to 2017 she served as a board member of the federal association “People of Short Stature and Their Families”. V.” for the interests of people of short stature. She also volunteers with her photography to support the fashion label “Auf Augenhöhe,” which designs clothing for people of short stature.
Change of perspective: “The imagery we see in the media is limited,” she says. “The same photos are always used when it comes to people with disabilities: someone in a wheelchair because the connection should be clear, and children with Down syndrome because of the cuteness factor,” says Spindelndreier. That’s okay, but there is another way. “People of short stature, for example, are rarely seen.” That’s why since 2017, in a long-term project, she has been portraying successful women of short stature across Germany, such as a civil servant or a public prosecutor, who report in short video recordings about their jobs, their careers and their everyday lives.
Visibility: Whenever Spindelndreier, as a photo editor, has the opportunity to use photos of people with disabilities to illustrate other topics, she does so. “I would like to discover models with disabilities in an article about motherhood. Even if I would stumble over this imagery at first,” she says. Changing viewing habits is a process. Visibility is also important. “If I’m at events without people with disabilities, maybe just the fact that I’m there changes something.”
Not a hobby: At such events, the photographer is confronted with questions like “Is this your hobby?” or “Oh, you can really do that?” “Like I would happily just walk around with my camera for eight hours.” These kinds of comments come mostly from men, she says, and photography is still a male-dominated field. “Well, a woman with technology is bad; “Disabled woman with technology, even worse,” says Spindelndreier and laughs. The disability is of course there for her, but as a background, not as a foreground. “It’s about my performance. They don’t book me because I’m short, but because I do good work.”
Gratitude: “I photograph from my perspective and height,” she says. That’s why she tries not to use the ladder that she always has with her. Also because everything takes longer. “I admire colleagues who can portray someone in fifteen minutes,” she says. For politicians, for example, everything has to go “bang, brisk, brisk”. That’s why she prefers to work on her own projects with plenty of time. It also makes a difference whether she photographs models with or without disabilities. “I can empathize with models with disabilities and have a completely different approach due to my similar biography,” she says. “It’s a bit like when a woman photographs a woman, not when a man does it.” Another important aspect for her is the gratitude that people with disabilities that she photographs show. “You feel seen,” says Anna Spindelndreier. “That has a lot of value for me because gratitude is something that is increasingly being lost.”